Books, Thoughts

Lost In This Place Called America

I’m never gonna know you now/But I’m gonna love you anyhow  –Elliott Smith, Waltz #2 (XO)

I recently finished Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  I’ve read a bunch of his short stories, as well as Good Omens, but never one of his own novels.  A friend of mine told me that she had just started reading it too, so the obvious thing to do was to read it together.

I loved getting lost in the story.  American Gods was one of those finish-it-at-3am books.  I got to the last 70 pages Wednesday night (oh, kismet) & I thought, Fuck it, I’m this far, might as well go all the way. I can’t say too much yet, because my friend is still reading it.  But one thing we’ve already edged around in discussion is the Bilquis section near the beginning of the book.  Sexy, shocking, & completely fitted to the fictional world, the section hits the same squirmingly emotionally ambiguous territory as “The Father’s Blessing” or the imagery in the 3 Libras music video.

(& if that isn’t invitation enough to pick up the book & see what I’m talking about, I don’t know what is.)

One of the aspects that attracts me to the story is Gaiman’s exploration of the layers of myth & belief hanging over geography.  The moments he creates makes me miss things I didn’t really know I was lacking.

Part of the structure includes stories of the people who come over to America & the gods they bring over with them.  One of them about an indentured British girl in colonial Virginia suddenly made me aware of being a product of my own family’s histories.  I thought about the generations of stories that I don’t know or that have been lost.

At one point, the characters drive near Bloomington & Normal, Illinois, sparking a moment of grief for David Foster Wallace.  There were also flashes of someone I know in a hitchhiker passing through the story.  Gaiman’s theory on roadside attractions in America gave me a few minutes’ pause.

It’s easy to say these things, to describe these brief parallels, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of comfort I have while reading the book.  I’m used to a work revealing the mysteries hidden in the everyday world, just in much more anxious, looming what-does-it-all-mean sort of ways.  American Gods is the opposite; Gaiman writes with pure curiosity about the land he’s exploring.  Unlike the guys in Easy Rider, who go looking for America & can’t find it anywhere, Gaiman looks at what we the people have brought to this land & what can still sustain us if we are invested enough.

With that said, my last thoughts are on how difficult it is to read American Gods & not compare it to Tori Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk.  I know that as artists & as friends, Gaiman & Amos influence one another.  There is a similarity of connecting to different myths of America, but they have two specifically different goals.  Also, one is a pre-September 11th work while the other is a post-September 11th work.  I think it is an interesting contrast to consider but in the end, both of them stand on their separate paths & take their audiences markedly different place in this place called America.