Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

Narrative Breaks in”American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

In works of speculative fiction the reader relies on the authority of the author to convey the truth of the fantastical world, plot, and characters. In American Gods the main character, Shadow Moon, is caught in a war between the Old Gods and the New. As the story progresses, the reader is treated to asides within the pages of the novel concerning the seemingly separate interludes of “Somewhere in America” and “Coming to America.” With these narrative breaks, Gaiman is introducing his reader to the “truth” of this work of low fantasy, converting the reader before the protagonist. Because of this, we will begin to believe before Shadow does.

“‘Bilquis,’ she tells him, raising her head. ‘With a Q’” (28). Less than thirty pages in to American Gods the story changes from Shadow and a bar in the Midwest to “Somewhere in America Los Angeles, California 11:26 P.M.” (27). This first aside comes out of nowhere for the reader as they turn the pages where a prostitute, with an unusual name, devours her john. Literally. Although, this is not exactly a cannibalistic act, as it turns out it is one of utter religious devotion. “He feels the lips of her vulva tight around his upper chest and back, constricting and enveloping him…He wonders why he is not scared. And then he knows. ‘I worship you with my body,’ he whispers…” (30). Later it is revealed that Bilquis was one of the historical names given to the Queen of Sheba.

Gaiman has just revealed the first seeds of the magic to be discovered in his novel. Since the reader is the proxy of the author and characters, what happens in the text is vicariously happening to us. There have been several mystical happenings with protagonist Shadow by the time we meet the Salim and the ifrit (a djinn).

Another “Somewhere in America” takes the reader to New York City where Salim, a closeted Omani salesman is having an unsuccessful week peddling his brother in law’s copper trinkets. When he takes a taxi back to his hotel the cabdriver turns out to be a legendary creature from the Middle East. The driver claimed to have been to a long forgotten city in Oman that had only been recently rediscovered. “‘My grandmother swore that she had seen an ifrit, or perhaps a marid, late one evening, in the edge of the desert…its eyes, like yours, were burning flames’” (188). Salim invites the ifrit back to his hotel room, they have a sexual encounter and when Salim wakes in the morning his possessions have been stolen. Like the john who was consumed by Bilquis, Salim seems to shake off the encounter. He assumes the ifit’s assumed identity “Ibrahim bin Irem…the photographs on the (taxi) license do not look much like Salim, but then, they did not look much like the ifrit…New York is very simple…how hard can it be?” (191).

Just before Gaiman introduces us to the mysticism of the ifrit of the ancient lands of Oman, Shadow is in his hotel room when Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy starts to talk to him. She professes to be one of the New Gods, the god of the boob tube. When her offer to entice Shadow over to their side fails, the narrator relates some of Shadow’s thoughts to us. “…He guessed he would take a roadside attraction, no matter how cheap, how crooked, or how sad, over a shopping mall, any day” (177).  The reader has already read of the origins of some of the cheap roadside attractions in the “Coming to America” segments. These are additional breadcrumbs left by Gaiman, persuading us to believe in these American Gods and their mythology.

Coming to America A.D. 813” reimagines the first Vikings that touched North American soil. Once they settled in to their new surroundings, drinking and singing songs of Odin, the All-Father. Later on a Native American came upon into their party and the Vikings hung him from a tree. “And, the next day, when two huge ravens landed upon the scraeling’s corpse, one on each shoulder…the men knew their sacrifice had been accepted” (69). The reader is learning before the main character that the gods of the old world came with the people who worshiped them as they crossed the seas. When Lief, son of Erik the Red came to America, because of the sacrifice of the scraeling, “his gods were already waiting for him when he arrived…They were there. They were waiting.”

For American Gods, Neil Gaiman interweaves a lot of established mythology regarding these Old and New Gods. Not only is the main character caught up in a war amongst these figures, many of which are still powerful and dangerous despite being mostly forgotten, so is the reader. The interludes of “Somewhere in America” and “Coming to America” give more depth to the complexity of the story than Shadow’s third person limited narrative can provide. It also lays the clues for the final battle in the end where the reader, like the old gods, has already arrived. Though we are more versed in this world than Shadow by the end, we will still wait for him, and follow in his journey with him until the last page.

 

Works Cited

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001. Print.

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

The Love Letter in “Cooked” by Michael Pollan

 

“Cooking is one of the more beautiful forms that human generosity takes…the very best cooking, I discovered, is also a form of love (415).”

At the heart of many of Michael Pollan’s books, are kinds of letters to his readers. Cooked doesn’t begin with a salutation and end with “Yours Truly” or “Sincerely,” but Pollan’s style of writing is more like correspondence between reader and writer that is unlike other novels and books out there. Cooked is filled with a long love letter about cooking, food, and history. It is a letter from writer to reader. Pollan has taken another nonfiction foodie subject and mixed it with his journalistic roots while adding in flavors of humor, poetry, and memoir. Like the subtitle A Natural History of Transformation, Pollan has transformed the love letter.

In the introduction and the afterward, upon reading the text, you would think with the way Pollan is addressing his audience, that he is having a causal conversation. As this is a book, it comes across as a letter. The text is then divided into four sections grouping cooking styles into the four classical elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Its no coincidence that his text evokes passion, sensuality, sexuality, and friendship, as that is how cooking translates for so many people.

He starts his cooking journey chronicle with fire. Pollan immediately addresses the passion that can come in a love letter. As barbeque is discussed he puts his masculinity on display for his readers. While going over the basics of huge fire pits, and whole hog roasting, he gives us a travelogue of southern pit cooking. He does it in a way that is similar Julia Child’s letters and recollections of first tasting and experimenting with French cuisine, when her husband was stationed in Paris. Pollan writes of his first taste of whole hog roasting, “So this was barbecue. Right away I realized I had never before tasted the real thing, and I was converted…the most rewarding $2.75 I’d ever invested in a sandwich (45).”

Family is the center of cooking with water, Pollan contends in the second part of the book. Much of what he invokes here is family and friendship imagery: cooking long braises with the help of his wife Judith, his son Isaac or his chef friend Samin. Pollan recalls during one Sunday his son answering the phone and speaking to his grandparents.“‘It’s cold and drizzly here, but really cozy inside,’ I heard Isaac tell them. ‘Dad’s cooking and the house smells so good. This is my perfect kind of Sunday.’” (195)

While in this chapter a reminiscence of childhood memories concerning a casserole dish are shared with the reader. After all cooking pots became a part of the center of the home when fire moved indoors. “The symbolic power of the pot—to gather together, to harmonize—might begin in the home, but reaches well beyond it… (158).” This is similar to how we view letters from loved ones; especially love letters. Their power to harmonize emotions extends beyond the written word.

Cooked takes a sensual tone in the air part when Pollan describes the best bread he’d ever tasted. It (the bread) “was so powerfully aromatic that, had I been alone, I would have been tempted to push my face into it. But I was at a dinner party in Oakland with people I didn’t know very well…(212).” He describes an act that could be conceived as sexual, like nuzzling one’s face in a woman’s bosom. It is a tender exchange between lovers. How the bread was so delicious, it was symbolically arousing and stimulating.

In the section on earth or fermentation addresses alcohol, forever associated with revelry and gods like Dionysus. The earth is where new life forms from old. It is through the love of life that the god of wine has brought mankind back down to the earth.

Pollan takes the bacteria that transforms milk into cheese and juice into wine and has eroticized it. He discusses with a Catholic nun how “cheese is all about the dark side of life (360).” What is a love letter but hidden messages and double meanings about something as everyday as cheese? Because of the dance between using fire, air, water, and earth in the kitchen, Cooked has fully transformed from a book into a love letter.

 

 

Works Cited

Pollan, Michael. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. New York City: Penguin Group  US, 2013. Print.

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Poetry

Surpris!

 

The golden cat, in a verdant leaf tropical storm,
Watches the girl take a picture of him

I watch the tiger, and the child
Holding the digital SLR camera

Here in Room 45, filled with dozens of voices
(Different languages, cultures, ages, and times)

We all survey these pieces, living paint
On stretched canvas, controlled by wood

Rousseau’s lightning strike illuminates the room,
Her eyes, the lens, reflecting immortal brushstrokes

For you, I recreate this moment,
Recapturing this vision at the National Gallery

Gazing upon this painting for the second time
And in vicarious wonderment anew

 

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo source: http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/rousseau/surprised.shtm#