by Rachel Tan (13So6D)
This is the latest installment in our collaboration with MediaCorp’s ilovebooks.com. Rachel Tan examines Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, and asks the big questions.
America: The land of sex, drugs and money. Home to a myriad of immigrants.
So what happens when the old gods of their respective motherlands start re-inventing themselves to suit new desires? And what happens when new gods emerge from shifts in cultural landscapes? After all, gods are children of the human imagination, existing only for as long as we believe in them and then retreating into death when they no longer serve any purpose. Because, like gods, “Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
In Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, we follow Shadow, an ex-convict who has just recovered his freedom, only to discover that his wife has died in a car crash – while involved in an adulterous act with Shadow’s best friend.
If that’s not too much to handle, there’s an extra twist – Shadow now works for a mysterious man who goes by the name of Mr. Wednesday. As Shadow is introduced to the world of gods and goddesses, he attempts to reconcile himself with his wife’s death (partially through her visitations from the underworld) and suddenly finds himself involved in the war between the old and new gods.
The character cast is just as sublime as the plot itself – the gods are derived from mythology from around the world. Whiskey Jack is Wisakedjak, a North American crane spirit, and Mr Nancy is Anansi, a trickster spider in West African culture, in disguise. Even Mr Wednesday is a god.
What is most interesting is Gaiman’s modern portrayal of these gods, straddling between retaining their original identities, while making their existence astoundingly believable in today’s context. Believe it or not, Mr Wednesday is not your usual toga-sporting, weapon-wielding vision of a god, but a slick, middle-aged gentleman who is a cross between a con-artist and a playboy. He does not deviate completely from such preconceptions, ritualistically sealing a bargain with mead, supposedly the “drink of the gods”.
What does it take to be a god? According to Gaiman, as long as we can find worshippers, we naturally become gods and goddesses alike. Sex, drugs, money – these are the new gods of the American life. Gaiman’s refreshing commentary on American society underscores the pregnant tension, made apparent by the abrupt sentences and chapter transitions, which result from the clash between tradition and popular culture. Old gods are swopped for new ones, as ideals change and our roots slowly morph into an empty space.
And like all good books, Gaiman slides us the big question: Which gods do we want to keep?
The writer’s e-book was sponsored by Mediacorp Interactive. To purchase the e-book and read other reviews, please click here. As part of this collaboration, all RI staff and students are eligible for an exclusive 10% discount from December 24 to January 7. Simply key in the promo code (To be confirmed) at the checkout by filling in the blank, and click APPLY.