A review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
There are books and then there are Books. You know what I mean. There’s the book that draws you in, captivates your attention, it can even be the most riveting page turner- but it’s still just a book. Then there’s the Book that has a beating heart and soul all of its own.
American Gods is one of those Books. It leaves you satisfied and full. It’s the kind of book that you end up devoting yourself too. You can’t read it alongside another novel, this book won’t allow it. It requires undivided attention and when you’ve finished there’s a satisfaction to it. It’s like the fullness after a good meal, but not one where you’ve over-indulged. It’s more active too, like the afterglow of sex, but still more. Like the ending of a good relationship but without the heartbreak. It’s good friends parting ways with the knowledge that you’ll visit one another again. After all, this Book is definitely going to require a re-read.
These Books change you. The ones that are so rich and complex and real that you could live in their imaginary world forever. The ones that convey truth despite (or perhaps because of) their fantastic fiction. These are the truths that people feel humming all around them but never quite reach out to touch. We’re all too busy to give them much thought, we just feel their vibrations. Then we read a book that puts it into words and those words become part of us. They sound off and we become the humming. They leave us shaken because you never really expect a book to have that effect. It’s worth it though. You can see everything a little clearer now and there’s more peace in your soul than there was before.
Verisimilitude is the word for that. Let that one roll off your tongue. Verisimilitude. That was the word of the day on the Elvis Duran morning show yesterday. According to Google, it means, “the appearance of being true or real.” That’s the short definition. Definitions always have to be short. On the radio, they used it in three different sentences. Somehow their examples were all humorous and little bit sexy, though I can’t remember what they were now. All I know is that it fits American Gods perfectly. Because, despite all the wild ideas about the different gods and mythologies, there is still so much reality.
Allow me to elaborate…
“…as sure as water’s wet and days are long and a friend will always disappoint you in the end.”
It’s a bit contrary to ‘nothing is certain except death and taxes.’ But have you ever had a friend that didn’t disappoint in the end? Friends never quite live up to what we hope they’ll be. Somehow it’s comforting to see it written down. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief and quit wondering what you’re doing wrong and why people keep letting you down. It’s just the way of the world. It’s above you and beyond you and you can rest easy knowing you’ve disappointed every friend you’ve ever had too.
“…in dreams, sometimes, you have no choices: either there are no decisions to be made, or they were made for you long before ever the dream began…”
This is describing a dream, obviously. But, much of this book’s “waking” moments are so dreamlike it makes you wonder how much of this is true for our waking, conscious world as well. Suddenly, you recall that article you read that says all of your decisions are made within microseconds of the choice being laid before you and all the humming and hawing that we do is just rationalization of a decision already made. How peaceful our lives would be if we didn’t question it, didn’t torment ourselves over it, just rolled with it as if we were in a dream.
“If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each others’ tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others…”
Perhaps it is the age of the internet that we are living in, the free movement of information and everyone on their soapboxes, megaphones in hand. Maybe it’s my hyper-emotional generation, raised to accept, empathize with and value each human snowflake. Whatever the cause, we seem to strive to feel everyone’s pain, we want to understand, we want to stay woke to every detail of our vast world and every social struggle. All the while forgetting that we can’t. We have a finite amount of emotional bandwidth to process all these emotions. And what use is there really to feeling all these feels? Unless you’re a therapist it doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t have any practical use except that we feel like good human beings. Another sigh of relief, we can’t feel it all, we would drown in it. It’s okay.
Doesn’t that feel better? People suck but you suck too, so make your choices, put up with one another, and don’t worry about the rest. Heaven. Hell. Good. Bad. They all serve their purposes. There is no end, nothing is what you think it is and you’re not going to remember it anyway. So carry on my wayward son.
See? Verisimilitude. Now those gods, the Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons; realms that we have always thought of in binary. True or false. And really, modern, enlightened people that we are, armed with science–it’s mostly just false. Now we’re not so sure. American Gods has fucked with our limited scope and we’re left with a whole new can of worms tickling our brain.
The appearance of truth. The feel of reality. The resonance in your soul. Verisimilitude.
Or… Perhaps… Just maybe…
Fact. The real deal. The American, God’s honest truth.
Until the next Book, anyway.