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Book Discussion: American Gods Chapters 1-4

The Green Dragon

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1clamairy
Nov 3, 2006, 10:17am Top

Well, I'm enjoying the story, even though I'm a bit perplexed by the author's distinct lack of writing style. I guess this means we'll just concentrate on the storyline exclusively during our discussions.

I think the idea of the abandoned gods of yesterday being angry and hurt at being replaced by the gods of technology is a lot of fun. I wish Shadow had more of a personality, but maybe that's the whole point. We can identify with him, because he's got no characteristics that conflict with our own.

I'll start another discussion thread each of the next four mornings, just so I don't schmeer The Green Dragon with all of discussion threads all at once.

2Atomicmutant
Edited: Nov 3, 2006, 10:46am Top

It's gonna be hard for me to do this, and I don't want to start the discussion out on a bummer, but I'm not enjoying this book at all.

My main complaint, to add to Clamairy's about the "distinct lack of writing style", is that the characters don't have distinctive individual voices, use words and phrases that are literary, not conversational, and, most annoyingly, use talking to move the plot along in heavy handed ways. I see them as plot moving devices, not real, breathing people that I care about.

I was enthusiastic to read this, having heard so much about Neil Gaiman (whose transplanted home is here in Minnesota), so don't get me wrong, I dove in with gusto. I find myself wishing that Stephen King had wrote this, I keep looking for his more observant pop-culture observations, and his mordant wit. This feels labored to me.
So for now, I'm just "doin' my own time".........

3fyrefly98
Nov 3, 2006, 11:58am Top

Can someone post a quick summary of what happens in chapters 1-4? I'm listening to it on audiobook, and I'm somewhere around chapter 7, but the chapter distinctions aren't particularly noticeable so I don't know where 4 stopped and 5 began.

4RuneFirestar
Nov 3, 2006, 4:22pm Top

Sadow has just gotten out of Jail due early due to his wife dying. As he gets on his flight home he meets Mr.Wednesday who offers him a job. Shadow refuses and tells him to get lost.

Then he stops at a restraunt and gets food and Wednesday finds him there and gives him a paper with the story of laura's death. Shadow and wednesday meet Mad Sweeny. Shadow seals the deal by drinking mead with them.

Shadow goes to laura's funeral and finds out that Laura died giving his best friend a bj. Shadow leaves the funeral and goes to the hotel and Laura comes to him. They talk, she says thank you for her present and shows him the gold coin she was burried with.

there's a bit more but even though I've got the book right beside me I'm hard pressed to say anything more.

the one thing that I can't stand that he is doing early is jumping around and adding side stories.

As I've said, Gaiman is a very enloquent writer, but the story he can weave is a good one. I've read his grapic Novles Stardust and The Sandman. They are very well done.


5katylit
Nov 3, 2006, 4:22pm Top

argh! I posted and it didn't go through. Will try again...

I'm disappointed in this book too. Like Atomic, I was really looking forward to reading some Neil Gaiman after reading everybody's enthusiastic comments about him on LT. But American Gods isn't doing anything for me. I can't warm up to the characters at all. Shadow seems so one dimensional, even when he learns that his wife has died, all his dreams and hopes for the future are shattered, I just sat back and thought "okay, so what?", there was no emotional content there for me.

Are Gaiman's earlier books better?

6fyrefly98
Nov 3, 2006, 5:07pm Top

The same flat, lack of affect that everyone's noticing in Shadow is present in the narrator of Neverwhere, one of his earlier books. Richard "fell through the cracks", and no longer exists in his normal life - no one sees or recognizes him, someone else is renting his apartment, etc., and he's stuck living in the bizarre world of London Below, and his emotional reaction basically boils down to "Huh. Weird."

7xicanti
Nov 3, 2006, 5:52pm Top

I find that Neil Gaiman really sneaks up on me. In most cases I start his books thinking I don't care a whit about the characters or what's happening to them... then, a bit further down the line, I realize I care so much I'm speed reading in a desperate attempt to find out what happens as quickly as possible.

8clamairy
Nov 3, 2006, 7:19pm Top

Well, I'm on page 202 (of the Harper Perennial Edition) and I care about Shadow... and I cannot even begin to guess why. But, like everyone else, I'm unimpressed with the writing style.

9hobbitprincess
Nov 3, 2006, 11:43pm Top

I'm glad it isn't just me. Shadow meets all these interesting characters but has almost no reaction to them. He doesn't ask questions but simply does as he is told. I keep waiting for some emotion or human reaction, but it just isn't coming.

I also find that I keep trying to guess who the various characters represent, and that bogs down the story for me. I feel that I don't know enough about the gods of various cultures, and that because of that, I am missing a lot of the story.

I'm sticking with the story, however. I'm just curious enough to keep reading.

10JPB
Nov 4, 2006, 4:32am Top

I picked up the book a few days ago, and spent an evening away from the computer (for once) reading. I am on chapter 5 - how handy to be right in the topic zone.

This is by far the worst thing he has written, that I have read. I'll second Atomicmutant's view that the characters' conversations move the plot along. Oddly, I am, of all things, reminded of how Gaiman is not Isaac Asimov. So many of his stories were moved along by conversation... but those conversations were fun to read.

In comparison, I would say Gaiman isn't giving us literary statements. I'd say that it is feeling more like I am reading a series of epitaphs.

I hate it when an author I've liked (The Sandman) is suggested to a number of others, and the book suggested is a dud. It is somewhat embarassing. My feeling is akin to suggesting to a couple you know that you all go to a favorite elegant restaurant of yours, and when you get there, you find they’ve converted it to a Chuck-e-Cheese.

11Morphidae
Nov 4, 2006, 8:41pm Top

I'm actually enjoying it. Is it great? No. Is it put-downable? Yes. But I'm by no means disliking it. I think the blandness of Shadow's reactions will eventually be explained.

Also, try http://frowl.org/gods/gods.html for an explanation of the gods mentioned. Although be warned, there are some major spoilers.

12hobbitprincess
Nov 5, 2006, 8:00am Top

Thanks for the site, although I am not going to check it out until I have finished the book. I'm glad you gave us the spoiler warning!

13Morphidae
Nov 5, 2006, 8:05am Top

What I could do is post the particular gods mentioned in each section without giving spoilers. Or would people consider that a spoiler itself?

14clamairy
Nov 5, 2006, 8:39am Top

I think that would be wonderful, morphidae. We don't have to read them until we are done with that section, or even finished with the whole book for that matter.

Or, better yet, you could give those gods their own separate thread, with a large spoiler warning.

15Busifer
Edited: Nov 7, 2006, 8:45am Top

I'm in a bit late, b'cause I had to finish another book first (The exile kiss, by the way)...

American Gods is a reread for me but I was eager for it, as I remembered enjoying the book the first time but did not remember the story particularily clear.
This time I... I don't know. The telling feels sort of detached, but at the same time I want to read more.

And aren't you at least a BIT curious about his /that is, Shadow/ wife - what is her part in this?

/I get the feeling that which some of you call lack of writing style actually is his style. It's like he aims for the "flat" telling, only to make the story stand out more? I don't know, but he collaborated with Pratchett on Good Omens which is a good laugh and while distinctly pratchetty also has a dark streak in it that I think is courtesy of Gaiman, and on his own he mainly writes dark observations and all this darkness can seem flat sometiems? Only grayscales to the spectrum sort of thing.../

16fyrefly98
Nov 7, 2006, 10:24am Top

What I can tell about his writing style based on the work of his I've read (Neverwhere, Coraline, Good Omens, and then the first parts of American Gods) is that while he is very good at coming up with a creative story, and he's good at telling you WHAT happens at a good clip, he's not so good at going much deeper than that. No why, no how, no emotional reactions, no depth. Almost like he's writing intending it to be adapted into a screenplay.

17Atomicmutant
Nov 7, 2006, 2:34pm Top

Fyrefly, I feel that way about Michael Chricton, that all of his books are fleshed out screenplays. He comes up with "the big idea", makes a couple of action-y tense-y moments out of it, and writes it as fast as he can to get it out to the studio heads, lol.

This book is way too obtuse and digression-filled to make a screenplay in my opinion.

18Busifer
Nov 7, 2006, 2:55pm Top

OK, I agree with that the style of his writing feeling a bit "flat", but obtuse story? Not in my opinion. I think the idea of gods/symbols/superstition incarnated as a kind of beings is while not new at least interesting. And while he's not artistically creative or groundbreaking, well I've read a few classics whose works was IMHO even worse because bad handling of language was topped with an uninteresting and/or dated story, so he's certainly not alone.

And that Chicago flat at the end of chapter 4? I could nearly even smell it/feel the grim(ey)ness. So maybe this is not only about what's objectively good or bad writing, but about what ideas make you tick? I am nonbeliever in any beliefsystem, and don't get offended by how the gods are handled here. As a matter of fact, the way they are described in American gods neatly explains why their whole existence are void.

19Atomicmutant
Nov 7, 2006, 3:20pm Top

Just to clarify, I don't find anything offensive about the gods in the book, and I agree that it's a nifty idea that the less people believe in them, the more down-on-their-luck they are. And the new gods are sorta like "new money celebrities", rap stars and britney-spearses and the like. So, yeah, that's a fun idea. I'm just not having any fun with the way he's treating it, that's all.

20Busifer
Nov 7, 2006, 3:29pm Top

It's okay, I did not read any such in your postings. But as I see it this could be an issue for some people, and I wanted it on the table, so to say.
Or maybe it was just a way for me to understand if this was a really a style/writing issue or a ideas/worldview issue - I don't know :-)
Everyone's free to feel and believe as they see fit! And when discussing language with me one should know that english is not my first language (my native tounge is swedish) and that sometimes makes me a poor judge on matters of stylistic execution...

21hobbitprincess
Nov 7, 2006, 6:46pm Top

I would love to see a list, morphidae. That would be excellent!

22JPB
Nov 8, 2006, 11:07am Top

Oh there are so many works of fantasy that build on the theme of “the more believers I have, the more powerful I am.”

Gaiman is hardly new with this - and I stopped American Gods at Chapter 7. I am being a reading leech - waiting to hear if other people found the ending satisfying enough to make me continue.

Gaiman's Sandman is so good... and a few of his short stories are wonderful... so I am beginning to think he is an artist who excels in mediums that force brevity.

23clamairy
Edited: Nov 8, 2006, 1:04pm Top

Well, I've still got 120 pages to go, so I still can't comment. But I will say this...

You're such a LEECH!

;o)

24Busifer
Nov 8, 2006, 1:55pm Top

A former colleague of mine who's a scriptwriter used to tell me "What did you expect? There´s only five (or so) basic stories and they're shared through all humanity and all time so you'll NEVER find anything new".

Kind of depressing, and also quite true. But the basic story could be used as a vehicle for telling someting else. I still (at chapter six) hope that this is the case with American Gods. And truly, I do not remember from my previous reading if this was the case so I'm hanging on in there :-)

No leeching for me!

25clamairy
Edited: Nov 9, 2006, 9:04am Top

Well, I found this on the second page of The Reading Group Guide, at the back of my copy of American Gods. There's this quote in An Interview with Neil Gaiman:

"I wanted to write American Gods in what I thought was an American style - clean, simple, uncluttered - and push the narrator further into the background than I had on previous books."

So everything we mentioned was indeed intentional. And it turns out that Gaiman is not an American by birth, he's a Brit.

26JPB
Nov 9, 2006, 10:53am Top

From the clamster:

You're such a LEECH!

Actually, in the working world... the proper term for us is manager.

:P

:D

27JPB
Nov 9, 2006, 10:54am Top

From clammy:

Well, I found this on the second page of The Reading Group Guide....

So he intentionally made it choppy. Not a good move. No wonder it didn't read like his other stuff... Nobody should do that. What a mistake.

* sigh *

28JPB
Nov 9, 2006, 10:56am Top

What are the stories, Busifer?

Hmm...

Couple meets, gets together, in spite of adversity.

A person experiences a downfall due to their limitations, that they cannot surmount.

A person experiences redemption after surviving difficulties.

I can keep listing... but why not have people add until we start feeling we are running into duplicates.

Who better than the Green Dragon team to figure out how many stories there REALLY are? Hmm?

29AlannaSmithee
Nov 9, 2006, 11:38am Top

Lassie saves Timmy after he falls down the well.

;-P

30Busifer
Nov 9, 2006, 2:52pm Top

According to my ex-colleague those stories you mention above could be of the same basic type, depending on how they're told...

You know - successful person happens on some setback but overcomes it, two people getting together against all odds; they're the same story on the conceptual level but depending on if the difficulty or setback is solved in cooperation with others OR using one's own wit they differ in morale and are thus different in kind.

But this isn't my area of expertise - I'm only trying to remember a conversation had a LONG time ago :-)

31Morphidae
Nov 9, 2006, 3:39pm Top

I read somewhere that these are the four types of stories.

Man vs Himself

Man vs Man

Man vs Nature

Man vs God (the Divine)

32fyrefly98
Nov 9, 2006, 4:03pm Top

morphidae, I remember that list from high school freshman English.

Sheesh, that seems like a long time ago.

33Busifer
Nov 9, 2006, 4:04pm Top

Yes, that sounds a lot like I remembered it...

34RuneFirestar
Nov 9, 2006, 8:56pm Top

Yes I remember that list too.....We had to read a book that fit each one. We did like a 3 month project on them I don't recall what books I read, but I do recall saying to one of my classmates " Oh, kill me now and end my suffering"

It was very long and drawn out.

35hobbitprincess
Nov 10, 2006, 11:19pm Top

Hmmmm - I plan to switch from middle school to high school English next year. Ideas, ideas . . .

(All teachers have a sadistic streak in them somewhere.)

I had to search the internet about the different plots/themes, and I found an interesting site:

http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/plotFARQ.html

The list goes from 1 plot to 36 basic plots. It's interesting.

36RuneFirestar
Nov 10, 2006, 11:34pm Top

I would like to apologize to your up and comming students for any ideas I may have accidently given you.

37clamairy
Nov 11, 2006, 10:06am Top

Bwaa haa haa! hobbitprincess, the best of luck to you, and your students!
:o)

Nice link, by the way. I like the 7 plots the best of the bunch. It seems to me that 3 is too few, and 20/36 is too many.

38fyrefly98
Nov 11, 2006, 12:53pm Top

The seven seems about right, except how are man vs. nature and man vs. environment different?

39clamairy
Nov 11, 2006, 1:43pm Top

"except how are man vs. nature and man vs. environment different?"

I think they mean environment in the sense of what's happening around the wo/man.

answers.com says:
1.) The circumstances or conditions that surround one; surroundings.

40hobbitprincess
Nov 11, 2006, 7:45pm Top

Interesting question to ponder . . . of the 7 plots, which does this book fall under?

41Busifer
Nov 12, 2006, 3:27pm Top

Yes... I haven't read the whole book yet, but I have a feeling this is not a book about man at all and thus it doesn't fit any of the 7 wo/man-centred plots. If extrapolating a bit maybe some of the others would do? I look at the story as basically being about time and how time changes belief and systems of belief. Then maybe no. 12 of the 20-plot plots (Transformation) would do?

42xicanti
Nov 14, 2006, 10:35pm Top

I've finally had the chance to sit down and reread this, so now I'm ready to take a more active part in the discussion! Yay!

To begin with: I've got to admit, I'm a little confused as to what y'all mean about Gaiman lacking a writing style. Do you just mean that he doesn't have a lot of flashy similies and cleverly-wrot turns of phrase? Personally, I don't think those sorts of things are really necessary for an author to have "style." I find that the pared-down, sparse style that Gaiman's used here suits this book.

I also think that Shadow's failure to react to a lot of what happens to him can be attributed to shock and general disatisfaction with how his life's going. He's been in prison for three years, he's just lost his wife, he's learned that she was unfaithful to him, and he's being followed around by a strange old man who won't leave him alone. He's having a pretty bad time of it. We also learn, early on, that he doesn't talk a whole lot and that he keeps things on the inside. There are little hints at what he was like before prison, but he hasn't had a chance to revert to that person yet. It seems to me that Gaiman's setting him up to be an observer, too; his job isn't so much to weigh in on what's happening as to bear witness to it, at least for the time being.

43Morphidae
Nov 15, 2006, 7:29am Top

I've finished the book and Shadow's "blandness" is commented on by a few characters. So it's part of his personality.

44fyrefly98
Nov 15, 2006, 8:35am Top

I agree that Shadow's blandness made him a good observer - no mortal personality can really stack up against the gods, who are all Personalities anyways.

The problem I found, though, was that his lack of emotional reaction to anything made it difficult for me to get emotional for him... if he doesn't care what's happening to him, why should I? Does that make sense?

45Melmoth
Edited: Nov 15, 2006, 2:49pm Top

Just finished ch. 4 here. So far I'm about inline with the rest of the posts here.

One thing I'm really beginning to wonder about is how this book got such a rep for dark content.

It's still early, but I haven't found it fitting there.

It's reminding me a bit of Terry Brooks' later fiction (see Running with the Demon) with a main character caught in the middle of a change that's coming, with not too much to keep you intensely interested.

A few side bits (dead wife, wotan's mission, etc) are keeping me wondering and making it not a chore to read, but nothing amazing so far.

46jenn2d2
Nov 16, 2006, 6:17pm Top

Re-reading American Gods, I have to say the first several chapters are my least favorite in the book. This is not my favorite Neil Gaiman novel by any means, but I still really felt satisfied with the ending the first time I read it (to provide a bit of answer to JPB's comment). Shadow is problematic in the beginning because he doesn't seem to have any reaction to the horrific things that keep happening to him. However, those things seem directly tied to his inability to react properly. He's constantly being tested by his environment, but that tests the readers' patience as well.

The side-stories remind me both of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with all of the fairy tales hidden in the footnotes, and of Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, which is my favorite treatment of the "gods are fueled by faith" theme.

47sandragon
Edited: Nov 29, 2006, 1:28am Top

I've just finished ch 4 and so far I'm liking it. I'm still interested anyways. This story also reminds me of Small Gods, where a god shows up whenever someone mentions a god of ... (fill in blank). By the end of the book they were trying to get rid of a God of Missing Pencils and a God of Socks that go Missing in the Laundry :o)

I think the flat effect and the grayness of the surroundings fits the story of gods that were once mighty, full of life and vibrancy, forced into decline because they've been forgotten. I couldn't help smiling at the sisters and Czernogan in that dingy flat remembering the good old days.

There was one almost bad moment when Shadow's dead wife showed up and I was reminded of Pet Sematary. *shivers* I'm not a horror fan at all!

This is my first Neal Gaiman novel, but I've read his short stories for kids (ie, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish), and watched MirrorMask. They were all somewhat bizarre, so I find myself waiting for something bizarre to show up here. Something more bizarre than a zombie wife, which has been done before.

And there must be more to Shadow than meets the eye. His past has been alluded to and makes me wonder what he did to get sent to prison. And he was smart enough to know how he could beat a god at checkers. I hope we find out more about him.

48fyrefly98
Nov 29, 2006, 7:21am Top

Hee, Small Gods looks funny... I've been underimpressed by Pratchett I've read in the past, but I might have to check it out.

Actually the book it reminds me the most of - and one I'm kind of shocked that no one's mentioned yet - is The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams. It features the same basic premise of the gods that humans created back in the day continuing to exist in modern days, even though humans don't need them anymore. It's also focused on the Norse pantheon, although Adams's conception of Odin is very different from Wednesday.

It's hilarious... in my opinion better than Hitchhiker's Trilogy. I'd recommend it to everyone who hasn't read it, but particularly anyone who liked the concept of American Gods but not so much the execution.

49Busifer
Edited: Nov 29, 2006, 9:42am Top

Yes, I remember liking The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul better than Hitchhikers... but it was a LONG time ago. Maybe I should reread it! Thanks for pointing to it.
I join in recommending Small Gods - it is very funny, in a reflective sort of way. Besides elaborating and exploring the concept of all those gods or spirits we secretly blame for the missing socks etc. it also draws on the Spainsh Inquisition. Those parts are maybe not best described as "hilariously fun", but they bring depth to the story :-)

50sandragon
Nov 29, 2006, 11:38am Top

I think I OD'd on Pratchett. Several years ago I read his books, one after another in order, and about halfway through the series I went "ugh" and haven't been able to touch another one since.

Is Long Dark Tea-Time connected with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency? Or are they stand alones? Not that I've read either. I'm not often in the mood for silly these days but Tea-Time sounds interesting.

51fyrefly98
Nov 29, 2006, 2:24pm Top

Tea-Time is technically a sequel to Dirk Gently's Hollistic Detective Agency, but only because they both feature Dirk Gently... story-wise, they're not related at all.

I like Tea-Time better a) because I think it's funnier, and b) DGHDA requires multiple read-throughs to really get what's going on.

It's such a great premise to start a book on... Thor's trying to get back to Norway from England, but of course he doesn't have a passport... or credit card... or the personality to deal with airline check-in people. :)

52Busifer
Nov 29, 2006, 2:43pm Top

I agree on Tea-Time being much better/easier to read. I started Dirk Gently at least two times before I got it going...!

53sandragon
Nov 29, 2006, 2:47pm Top

:o) haha

That sounds fun. It would be neat to read Tea-Time after reading American Gods. Of course who knows when I would get to it. The nice thing about these group reads is it gets me reading those books I've been meaning to for the longest time now! Hmmm, maybe the library has Tea-Time on audio...

54sandragon
Nov 29, 2006, 2:51pm Top

Just checked at the library. No luck. I'll have to find another way to slot this into my should-read-now list.

55clamairy
Nov 29, 2006, 4:45pm Top

I'm going to look for Tea-Time on the swap shelf at my library, I think...
:o)

56RuneFirestar
Nov 30, 2006, 5:13pm Top

At the moment, I'm reading but alot of Dean Koontz, I've just finished his Forever Odd and it was brilliant.

But the thing is, I'm finding it really hard to concentrate on reading anything at the moment because I'm trying and failing to find a new place to live. :( Something's gotta come up soon or I'm sunk.

57wyvernfriend
Dec 5, 2006, 5:17pm Top

I've found that Tom Holt does an interesting take on some of the gods (and classic opera). I'd recommend expecting someone taller and Who's afraid of Beowulf.

58MrsLee
Edited: Jul 14, 2016, 12:03am Top

Interesting to see how this conversation veered into Pratchett and Adams. I just finished reading The Art of Neil Gaiman and it talks about how closely he worked with both of those authors. It also said that he wrote American Gods after he moved here. He had always had and idea of what Americans and America were like, but after he lived here for a couple of years he realized that we weren't at all what he thought. We were not "new" but an accumulation of lots of "old" with space and freedom. Something like that.

59clamairy
Jul 13, 2016, 9:30pm Top

#58 Makes perfect sense to me!

60selena777
Nov 27, 2017, 1:18am Top

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