On the Seventh Day…
Book review by: Witney Seibold
Gods are not the creators of the world. Gods, in fact, were created by people, and become powerful only when people believe in them. As belief dwindles, and believers lose faith or simply die out, so do the Gods. But what happens to the gods that are known of, but not worshipped? The ancient European gods of dated mythologies? Have they died out? Or do they live on, since we, humans, their creators, know about them? According to Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, those gods have moved to America. They now live among us in the Midwest, running funeral homes, and drawing energy from roadside attractions. An interesting idea? You bet. Will it give insight to the serious spiritual explorer? Most likely not. What we have been given is a teenage version of spirituality. A visceral tale with simple language which would probably be more at home in Gaiman’s more familiar medium: comics.
The story follows the none-too-bright hero, with the unfortunate moniker of Shadow, as he is released from prison only to find his loving wife dead. This event has him approaching the rest of the story with an almost fourth-wall-breaking attitude of detachment. It’s distracting. He soon falls in with an aged and eccentric pervert named Wednesday. They begin making long road trips around the Midwest. They visit every Everytown, roadside attraction, and diner in the area looking for, well, gods. Shadow is also briefly abducted by an android, claiming to be a New God. It turns out that the Old Gods (the ones from Europe) intend to do battle with the New Gods, which spring from technology and television. Why must they do battle? Well, it’s never made clear. Needless to say, the Old Gods are very attached to ritual. We get swept through a long journey which involves drunken dwarves, psychic Russians, a serial killer, a stripping Lucille Ball, the afterlife, a lot of sleight-of-hand, a whole bevy of teenage girls, and Shadow’s zombie wife who crops up from time to time.
This is essentially a road story. The problem with that, though, is that it was written by a Brit. I’m not saying that non-Americans are incapable of writing of powerful forces of Americana like The American Road. But the manner with which Gaiman approaches it, is one of discovery. You can tell that he just went on a long road trip, discovered how wonderful they can be, and enthusiastically, like a third grader, wrote down his findings, not knowing that it’s a mythos already created, and revisited many, many times since On the Road. Gaiman also has a weird fixation with sexy teenage girls… Well, a less than healthy one, at any rate. Every time Shadow and Wednesday stop somewhere, they run into yet another comely teen (alive or dead) who reacts to them sexually.
It’s an entertaining book, and I’m sure is already loved by comic fans the country over. I enjoyed passages. When Shadow moves into a small town, for instance, we feel safe and at home, and far away from the zombies and androids in the rest of the book. The style was a little too visual for me; A little too action and image oriented, and not enough driven by its ideas. Its mythology is strong enough. Its style could have been improved.