Book: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Spoiler level: zilch
I just started this book, and I'm already enjoying the hell out of it. One thing--and this is actually really really small--but one thing that I was really appreciating last night was the way Neil Gaiman was selecting the just-right cultural and geographical references for a couple passages from American Gods. Let me trot out these two examples.
His motel was a good two miles away, but after spending three years in prison he was relishing the idea that he could simply walk and walk, forever if need be. He could keep walking north, and wind up in Alaska, or head south, to Mexico and beyond. He could walk to Patagonia, or to Tierra del Fuego.
Here is a bit a dialogue right after:
"I thought she was my best friend," said Audrey. "We'd talk every day. When Robbie and I had a fight, she'd be the first one to know--we'd go down to Chi-Chi's for margaritas and to talk about what scumpots men can be. And all the time she was fucking him behind my back."
In the first bit, I loved that this guy would think of Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego as the most exotically far places. They're just so vividly, colorfully, wonderfully far places, especially to a Midwestern American, which is what this character is. They're the kind of far places a schoolboy would learn about, and weirdly remember. They are the quintessential far places you wouldn't immediately think of. Like, the Himalayas, that would be an obvious far place, but Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are so much better. I read this and stopped and thought how perfect it is. I mean, no other place names would work half as well, at least to me, as those.
Also, in the second, Chi-Chi's! How perfect is that as a place for once-wild small-town thirty-something wives to go to bitch about men. (scumpots!) Just slightly more exotic than, say, Olive Garden or TGI Fridays, but still, it's a chain beyond its heyday (it was hot in the 1980's). Chi-Chi's used to be vaguely classy, and now it still clings onto a little of that, but it's also a bit seedy. I mean, it's the brilliantly perfect restaurant.
There's nothing showy or clever about these choices; it's just that they feel absolutely right to me as a reader--so right that they delighted me. I love really good cultural references like that.
I don't feel that this is an easy thing to do. You have to pick ones people know, but if they're obvious, that's no fun. And then, everybody experiences things in different ways, so you have to really think about where the commonality is, or how the echo plays to the ear.
At least the North American ear. I imagine non-North Americans might not get some of these. In fact, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego will certainly not seem exotic to some on the globe, and does an Aussie even know Chi-Chi's? Though this book, being American Gods, and set where it is, I think it will probably have a lot more American references than most books.
Anyway, I was really appreciating this as a minor art within Gaiman's writing last night. Have you ever come across just a spot-on reference like that?
OMG & LOL!
Okay, you know what's funny? In looking for pictures of Chi Chi's, I came across a whole blog called "Creepy, Abandoned Chi-chis" entirely devoted to creepy abandoned Chi Chi's! Which, I think further goes to show the brilliance of Gaiman for choosing that restaurant.
Also, Justine Jones has a new career in scaring cute dogs!