Tonight, my bookclub is discussing American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It's a bit of departure from a club that in the past couple of years has looked at Moby Dick, Children of the Alley (Naguib Mahfouz) and Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) - those of you who are genre-jumpers like me know that "departure" is an understatement.
I like Gaiman's work, but I don't love it. American Gods doesn't have the deep resonance of a book like Gilead – though, that is really like comparing apples to Winnebagos. But I admire his storytelling ability, in the same way that I admire (but don't love) Stephen King.
It got me thinking about plot and story, and specifically, how much happens in a story. Gaiman has people tied up in trees sitting vigil for Odin as other gods swoop down on thunderbirds and the true god of Easter makes dead plants live and wives come back from the dead, and mystic moon goddesses produce golden coins and magic, and blood and, and, and....
Yes, it is a sort of breathless fiction.
Then I read this from the other book on my bedside.
"The train flashed through a small Montana town without stopping – two crossing gates with bells and red lanterns, a row of darkened stores, an empty rodeo corral with two cows standing alone under a bright floodlight. A single car was waiting to cross, its parking lights shining. It all disappeared. Sims could hear a train whistle far off."
On man, how I LOVE Richard Ford. The above is from his story, "Empire", from Rock Springs. I came across that paragrah and I immediately wanted to slow down, to read it again, to be there on that train, seeing the cows, the lights, hearing the whistle. It is so evocative of mood and place and full of resonance. But why? Isn't it just a couple of cows in a nowhere town? Where the hell is Odin and that crazy moon goddess? Could somebody please blow something up?
And that's the strange thing. Gaiman's work moves at a breakneck speed across the page, in my brain and right out again. Nothing sticks. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT a book snob - I say if you love it, hell, even if you just like it, then READ IT! (Notable exception: Any book by Dan Brown - which should be banned in schools, not for content, but for promoting horrible, shallow writing) I digress.
Richard Ford stories get into my head and they stay there. That's why I read and re-read his work. And Gaiman, yeah, I'll read another one, because like a ice-cold Coors Light on a blazing summer day, it tastes good - but it goes right through ya.
I guess I try to place my own fiction somewhere between these two. I strive to create moments of resonance like Ford can, but once in a while I want to blow something up – to create something that will make the reader go, "Hey, that's cool." Because I know cows under streetlights doesn't do it for everyone.
Link to interview with Richard Ford on publication of, "A Multitude of Sins" - another book I am re-reading.
Gaiman's official site.