Monday, November 04, 2013

the singular wit of Neil Gaiman

I'm currently reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a rollicking fantasy adventure about Old-World gods among us here in the New World, brought over by the power of immigrant belief, but now fading as those old traditions fade, only to be replaced by newer, modern divinities that represent Americans' current values. Gaiman's book reminds me a little too strongly of Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume, with which Gods has many elements in common—not least of which is the notion that gods exist, but that they denature as belief in them wanes. That said, Gaiman's narrative carries its own bizarre sense of humor.

To wit: in the following passage, the protagonist, Shadow, is talking with Jacquel (Jackal, a.k.a. an incarnate Anubis) and Mr. Ibis (the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth?). Jacquel works at a funeral home as a sort of town coroner. He and Shadow have just brought in the body of a recently deceased old woman. After depositing the body in the mortuary, the two sit down to dinner with Mr. Ibis, who runs the funeral home. Ibis and Jacquel have vegetables; Shadow, a large, red-blooded American, has been given a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of beer.

There was more chicken than Shadow could eat, and he shared the leftovers with the cat, removing the skin and crusty coating then shredding the meat for her with his fingers.

"There was a guy in prison named Jackson," said Shadow, as he ate, "worked in the prison library. He told me that they changed the name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC because they don't serve real chicken any more. It's become this genetically modified mutant thing, like a giant centipede with no head, just segment after segment of legs and breasts and wings. It's fed through nutrient tubes. This guy said the government wouldn't let them use the word chicken."

Mr. Ibis raised his eyebrows. "You think that's true?"

"Nope. Now, my old cellmate, Low Key, he said they changed the name because the word fried had become a bad word. Maybe they wanted people to think that the chicken cooked itself."

Although Gaiman makes some poor choices in his grammar, mechanics, and diction, he's an entertaining writer, and I'm enjoying American Gods. As I told Charles in an email, the novel is moving along at a brisk, Michael-Crichtonesque pace, almost as if Gaiman had meant for his story to be made into a movie. I suspect that Gaiman had envisioned Anthony Hopkins in the role of Mr. Wednesday who, in the novel, is an incarnation of the Norse god Odin. It's too bad that Hopkins already plays Odin in the Marvel movie universe.

(You'll have caught that Low Key = Loki, the Norse trickster god.)


1 comment:

ZenKimchi said...

I read it last year. I enjoyed it, but I think you would catch more of the divinity jokes than I did.