Like bodiless water passing in a sigh


Duwamish waterway, 7:45 AM, as viewed from freeway

Cold this morning, cold enough to see one's breath. Humid as well, the damp working its way into my clothes on my walk to the bus stop. Soon I'll be wearing a winter coat in the mornings and carrying it in the evenings as the weather goes through the usual indecisiveness of autumn as it makes way for the rainy Seattle winter. The world transformed, the grape vine turning yellow and brown, the oak-leaf hydrangea rusting, the magnolia dropping stiff brown leaves all over the garden even as the new blooms are budding out at the tips of branches, a simultaneous play of death and rebirth in our back yard. Miraculous, really. We planted something like 200 bulbs on Sunday afternoon, mostly tulips but some daffodils, in the hope that we'll be around to see them next spring. Fingers crossed.

a vibrant hash of sex, violence, foul language and blood

Certainly I'm willing to engage with myths, fantasy, folklore, and even science fiction. Certainly I'm willing to give a storyteller time to gather threads and ideas together, to take a couple of deep breaths, clear her throat, set some scenes, take a slow road to wherever she's going. But I am not a man of infinite patience, either, which is likely a personal shortcoming I should overcome. Still, I have my limits.

I wonder if those limits are going to be tested by the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I admit right off that it's a novel I was unable to finish; I abandoned it around a hundred pages in, making it one of only two novels I've abandoned in the last twenty years (or even longer, maybe). The other novel, in case you wonder, is Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I like what Gaiman does with ideas of the superimposition of the supernatural with the natural, and he has some attractive cliches involving sympathetic underdogs that he leans on quite often, but I think Mr Gaiman's prose rather stinks, so I can't read him. I've been willing to watch adaptations of his work, because I expect far less from television and the cinema than I expect from a novel. I'm a prig that way. I'm not ashamed of it.

Despite my low standards for televised fare, I worry. Mighty Reader and I have only watched the first episode of American Gods and so far, I must say that the show has attempted to substitute spectacle for storytelling. It's been a vibrant hash of sex, violence, foul language and blood (no human body contains as much blood as goes spurting out in this show). The makers of this version of American Gods seem to be trying too hard to catch our attention by shifting the rules of reality every two minutes and shocking us with violence. The problem is, of course, that so much violence really just benumbs the viewer, and questions about why all of the violence are not asked. Shadow Moon, the protagonist, never asks why the five faceless robot guys are beating the crap out of him. Shadow Moon, the protagonist, has so far been a confused puppet who seems alternately bored and cranky, but essentially unreactive to his own life as it happens. Maybe that's deliberate, although my intuition tells me that his character is simply being ignored by the producers while they focus on displaying high-contrast violence and sex to the viewer. Sort of trapping the viewer into both the ugliness of the real world and the ugliness of a Game of Thrones world at the same time. All, so far, to no real purpose.

But we'll keep watching, with the hopes that something will happen in the way of story and character. Gaiman has a sort of Dickens-in-miniature way with character, if he's allowed. If the makers of the show can get beyond the idea of a circus of set-pieces, American Gods might be worth watching. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I am working on the storytelling in one of my own novels, Go Home, Miss America, as I prepare it for submission to a scrappy little publisher in a couple of weeks. I am thinking of ways to bring the inner life of one main character more to the fore in the second half of the book. It's enjoyable work, this storytelling stuff. Far more enjoyable than the month-plus I recently spent hammering the prose around.