Gaiman’s Anthropomorphized Gods

…[Mr. Ibis] was an artist and [] his tales should not be seen as literal constructs but as imaginative recreations, truer than the truth…

Michael Chabon’s blurb on the cover ought to let readers know that popular fantasy writer Neil Gaiman has got literary cred. Gaiman himself says of American Gods, published in 2001 with its television series adaptation dropping next year, that it “feels an awful lot like a first novel” since it was “the first long work I’ve done without any collaborative input from anyone, and that wasn’t first somethinsg else.” The novel begins with its protagonist Shadow near the end of a three-year stint in prison, which he largely endured by having “taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife,” and by having read a lot of Herodotus thanks to his cellmate, Low Key. Just before Shadow is released, he learns his beloved wife has died in a car wreck (she was so beloved that, plot-wise, she was slated for quick execution). On his way home, Shadow has a dream (dreams will figure heavily throughout):

“Changes are coming,” said the buffalo without moving its lips. “There are certain decisions that will have to be made.”

Firelight flickered from wet cave walls.

“Where am I?” Shadow asked.

“In the earth and under the earth,” said the buffalo man. “You are where the forgotten wait.” His eyes were liquid black marbles, and his voice was a rumble from beneath the world. He smelled like wet cow. “Believe,” said the rumbling voice. “If you are to survive, you must believe.”

“Believe what?” asked Shadow. “What should I believe?” …

“Everything,” roared the buffalo man.

On the plane home, Shadow meets a man who introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday and asks Shadow to work for him; Shadow declines, thinking he has a job lined up with his friend at home. Then Wednesday turns up again at a bar Shadow goes to, repeating the job offer.

In chapter 2, in the same bar, Shadow learns from the newspaper that the friend who was supposed to hire him died in the car wreck with Laura. Shadow flips a coin for show as to whether to take Wednesday’s job offer, but when he tries to beat the flip with a coin trick, he loses (Wednesday: “Rigged games are the easiest ones to beat”). Then Wednesday’s friend Mad Sweeney shows up and tries to teach Shadow a new coin trick, giving him a coin. They all get drunk on “mead” to seal the deal of Shadow’s working for Wednesday, and Shadow and Sweeney get into a drunken fistfight. Shadow wakes up the next morning in a car Wednesday’s driving and watches him trick a gas-station checkout girl.

“What are you, a two-bit con artist?”

Wednesday nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I suppose I am. Among other things.”

Shadow goes to Laura’s funeral, where her best friend comes in and spits on her corpse, then tells him that “[y]our wife died with my husband’s cock in her mouth, Shadow.” At the cemetery, he flips the coin Mad Sweeney gave him down into Laura’s gravesite to be buried with her. On his way back to his motel, he’s abducted by some guys, including “a fat kid,” who want to know what Wednesday’s up to, but Shadow can’t tell them much, so they drop him at his motel.

Back at the motel in chapter 3, Shadow has a dream of “gods who have been forgotten.” A voice tells him:

“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

When he wakes up his wife Laura is there. She concedes she’s dead and tells him what happened the night she died, but says she still loves him and that she will watch out for him. She also thanks him for the coin, which she’s wearing around her neck. Her kiss confirms to him that she’s really dead.

In chapter 4, Wednesday and Shadow head toward what Wednesday deems “one of the most important places in the entire country,” to “wine and dine” some people he needs to “enlist” in his “current enterprise.” In Chicago, they stay with a family of Russians headed by a man named Czernobog, who tells them how he used to be a “knocker,” sledgehammering cows to death on the slaughterhouse floor, and who seems to want nothing to do with Wednesday’s plans, whatever they are. They play checkers, and Shadow offers a wager that if he wins, Czernobog help Wednesday, and Czernobog agrees on the condition that if he wins, he gets to sledgehammer Shadow in the head like a cow. Shadow loses the first game, but goads him into another, which Shadow wins, so after Czernobog helps Wednesday, he’ll get to sledgehammer Shadow. On the couch that night, Shadow dreams he’s been shot:

I think I just died. He remembered hearing and believing, as a child, that if you died in your dreams, you would die in real life. He did not feel dead. He opened his eyes, experimentally.

One of the Russian sisters, Zorya Polunochnaya, gives him a silver liberty dollar she tells him is the moon.

In chapter 5, the next day, in order to finance his wining and dining, Shadow helps Wednesday rob a bank (which it turns out is the same crime Shadow was doing jail time for in the first place). A snowstorm appears after Wednesday instructs Shadow to create one. Wednesday pretends to be a bank employee taking money from people trying to deposit it in an outdoor slot he’s put an out-of-order sign on, and sets Shadow up at a payphone that he then directs inquiring policemen to call to confirm his story.

“That Sweeney guy said you were a hustler.”

“He was right. But that is the least of what I am. And the least of what I need you for, Shadow.”

They drive to the House on the Rock, a tourist attraction, such attractions being, according to Wednesday, places people erected when “they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void.” (Wandering around the House Shadow receives a fortune, part of which reads “Like Father, Like Son.”) They meet up with Czernobog, and wander around what increasingly seems like a funhouse, and Shadow is introduced to an old man named Mr. Nancy. They all get on a carousel.

Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods.

In chapter 6, Shadow finds out Wednesday is the god Odin, and they ride their now-mobile carousel mounts to Odin’s Hall, where other gods that Wednesday has convened have met to hear Wednesday’s pitch. He warns them that “[t]here’s a storm coming, and it’s not a storm of our making.” Further,

“When the people came to America they brought us with them. They brought me, and Loki and Thor, Anansi and the Lion-God, Leprechauns and Kobolds and Banshees, Kubera and Frau Holle and Ashtaroth, and they brought you. We rode here in their minds, and we took root. We traveled with the settlers to the new lands across the ocean.”…

“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.

“They are aware of us, and they fear us, and they hate us,” said Odin. “You are fooling yourselves if you believe otherwise. They will destroy us, if they can. It is time for us to band together. It is time for us to act.”

Shadow is then driving some of the gods to a restaurant when he’s knocked out with a gun butt. He’s interrogated by two “spooks” in dark suits who identify themselves as Mister Stone and Mister Wood; they beat him up when they’re not pleased with his answers to their questions about Wednesday. He wakes to Laura shaking him after she’s killed Wood and Stone; per Zorya Polunochnaya’s advice, he asks her what she wants, and she says to be able to live again.

In chapter 7, Shadow flees the boxcar he was being held in through the woods, led to the road by a talking raven who instructs him to go to Kay-Ro. On his drive down to Cairo, Illinois, he picks up a girl named Sam who’s hitchhiking to El Paso, Illinois and who tells him a story about human sacrifice to Odin she heard in her religion class. (“White people have some fucked-up gods, Mister Shadow.”) At his motel that night, Lucille Ball talks to him from the television:

“I’m the idiot box. I’m the TV. I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.”

She wants him to work for her but he decides he prefers Wednesday’s sensibilities. He arrives in Cairo and meets Ibis and Jaquel.

In chapter 8 (which Gaiman has declared his personal favorite), Shadow helps out at Jaquel and Ibis’s funeral parlor, learning they are Egyptian gods. Mr. Ibis tells him he’s been writing stories about “coming to America.” Shadow has a dream of having intensely pleasurable sex with a woman who won’t tell him who she is; when he wakes his bruises from his earlier beatings have vanished. He meets Mad Sweeney under a bridge, who tells him the coin he gave him earlier was the wrong coin, and he needs it back, but Shadow says he can’t get it. Sweeney tells him not to trust Wednesday and asks for money; a while later he turns up frozen to death with a bottle of Jameson. That night they toast him and Mr. Ibis tells the story of how Sweeney came to America thanks to a woman’s belief in him as a leprechaun. Wednesday turns up at the funeral parlor and he and Shadow head north. END PART 1.

In chapter 9, at a Wisconsin diner, Wednesday describes to Shadow two two-man cons, the Fiddle Game and the Bishop Game, before he (Wednesday) picks up the waitress with his indefatigable charm. Shadow intuits that Wednesday used to have a partner. Wednesday gives Shadow ID papers for Mike Ainsel and packs him off on a bus to the small town of Lakeside. On the way, Shadow eavesdrops on two girls’ inane conversation, and when he arrives gets a ride to his apartment from a nice old man named Hinzelmann who tells crazy stories.

In Interlude 1, we see a conversation between the hitchhiker Samantha, whom Shadow gave a ride to earlier, and some authorities interrogating her about him.

In chapter 10, the next day, Shadow tries to walk to town in minus-thirty-degree weather and almost freezes before he’s given a ride by police chief Mulligan, who gets him set up with provisions. At home later, Hinzelmann visits Shadow and gets him to buy tickets for a raffle about when an old klunker will fall through the ice of the frozen lake, then Shadow introduces himself to his neighbor, Marguerite Olson. Wednesday picks him up for a trip to Las Vegas to see someone whose name Shadow cannot retain. Wednesday meets whoever it is and gets them to join the plan. Shadow asks if he can bring Laura back to life, and Wednesday tells Shadow all the charms he knows, among other things:

“Those were the first nine charms I learned. Nine nights I hung on the bare tree, my side pierced with a spear’s point. I swayed and blew in the cold winds and the hot winds, without food, without water, a sacrifice of myself to myself, and the worlds opened to me.”

He tells Shadow he can’t bring Laura back but intimates that if Shadow were to find thunderbirds, they could.

In chapter 11, Shadow officially buys his raffle tickets from Hinzelmann. He goes to the library to look up thunderbirds and winds up buying a book of old town letters with a picture of Hinzelmann’s grandfather in it. Chad Mulligan tells him the story of how Marguerite Olson’s son vanished. He dreams of thunderbirds. They go to San Francisco to meet with a woman who turns out to be the goddess Easter. Wednesday tries and eventually succeeds in convincing her she should help them because she’s as forgotten as the rest of the gods, proving his point by asking their coffee waitress, whom he later tries to stiff but whom Shadow pays, causing Wednesday to go off on a litany of all the bad things she’d ever done. Back in Lakeside, Shadow learns that Alison McGovern, one of the girls from his bus trip in, is missing, and he helps look for her. He runs into the other girl from the bus, who mentions that several other teenagers have disappeared from Lakeside in the past.

In chapter 12, Shadow and Wednesday are driving to South Dakota when they’re diverted by a road block that causes Wednesday to perform a charm that transfers them “backstage,” enabling them to escape. While backstage, Shadow touches some bones that momentarily transfer him into the mind of Mister Town, one of their pursuers from the road block. They visit a guy named Whiskey Jack who lives on an Indian reservation and trade his nephew their Winnebago for his car. Back in Lakeside, police chief Mulligan asks for love advice and Shadow advises him to go for it. He makes more trips with Wednesday to meet with gods and Wednesday seems generally pleased with the progress of his plans. On a walk around Lakeside, Shadow runs into Laura in a graveyard, and she tells him he’s not dead but he doesn’t really seem alive.

In Interlude 2, we see Samantha the hitchhiker further questioned, and in Interlude 3 we see Laura trying to get a job. In chapter 13, Marguerite Olson invites Shadow to a dinner party where he meets her sister, who turns out to be the hitchhiker Samantha. Sam talks him into going to a bar with him to talk about why she’s been questioned, and he tells her the truth about everything that’s been going on:

“Just tell me you’re one of the good guys.”

“I can’t,” said Shadow. “I wish I could. But I’m doing my best.”

They run into Chief Mulligan with his date from out of town–Laura’s former friend Audrey, who freaks when she sees Shadow, forcing Mulligan to take him down to the station. Shadow calls Mr. Ibis at the funeral parlor to try to get ahold of Wednesday. Reading the book of old town record’s while he waits to be officially arrested, Shadow notices that there are old records of several kids going missing. Mulligan arrests him for violating his parole. While he’s waiting for some other jurisdiction to pick him up, his guard falls asleep and on the TV Shadow sees Mister Town and Mister World shoot Wednesday in the head. Shadow’s picked up by a suspicious car that turns out to be Mr. Nancy and Czernobog. END PART 2.    

In chapter 14, Czernobog, Nancy, and Shadow drive South in a VW van procured for them by the King of the Dwarves. At a restaurant they get a call from the opposition offering for them to come get Wednesday’s body, and they meet in a supposedly neutral space, the centermost point of the country, which is an abandoned tourist attraction. They meet Mister Town and a woman who introduces herself as Media:

“Media. I think I have heard of her. Isn’t she the one who killed her children?”

“Different woman,” said Mr. Nancy. “Same deal.”

Shadow sees Wednesday in his dream that night. They have to wait until midnight the next day to collect the body, according to “the rules.” Media tries and fails to seduce Shadow to their side. Shadow meets the opposition’s driver, his old cellmate Low Key, and figure out he’s the god Loki. Shadow says he must have known Wednesday because they’re both Norse pantheon gods, but Loki claims they were never friends. They get the body and Wednesday’s glass eye, and Shadow remembers Wednesday telling him that if he died, Shadow should hold his vigil. To do so, they go to a “world tree” in Virginia, where some women help tie Shadow to it.

In chapter 15, Shadow hangs on the tree, enduring much pain, and is visited by an elephant man who tells him it’s “in the trunk.” After some days a squirrel gives him some water. Laura comes to him and wants to cut him down, but he says he has to do this. Later, his heart stops beating.

In chapter 16, Shadow, dressed now, walks down stone steps and meets Zorya Polunochnaya guarding the gate to the underworld. He gives her the liberty dollar she gave him and has to choose a path–“hard truths” or “fine lies”; he chooses truths, and revisits key points in his life–learning of Laura’s death, the original bank robbery, his mother dying, interrogating his mother about who his father is, his mother dancing at a tavern with a man who turns out to be Wednesday (the night Shadow is conceived). He meets a feline-like woman named Bast (the one he slept with in a dream earlier) and she takes his heart. He gets into a boat piloted by Mr. Ibis. Then Shadow is judged in the Hall of the Dead by Mr. Jacquel, who recounts his crimes (summarized), but they don’t outweigh the feather on the scales they use to judge your crimes against. Shadow accepts the nothingness of death.

In chapter 17, the gods all gather at Rock City, on the top of Lookout Mountain. Laura follows Shadow’s instructions to drink water at a farmhouse near the tree. “The water of time, which comes from the spring of fate, Urd’s Well, is not the water of life”–but it revives her temporarily. Back at Rock City, the newer gods of the opposition gather, including the fat kid. Town drives to the world tree Shadow is hanging from, which Mr. World has instructed him to cut a stick from. After doing so he pokes Shadow with it so Shadow bleeds. A hawk tries to convince Easter, in Rock City, to go help Shadow at the tree. Town keeps getting lost trying to find his way away from the tree, and picks up a hitchhiker–Laura. In Rock City, Mister World explains his plans to the fat kid:

“I’m going to take the stick, and I’m going to throw it over the armies as they come together. As I throw it, it will become a spear. And then, as the spear arcs over the battle, I’m going to shout ‘I dedicate this battle to Odin.’ “

“Huh?” said the fat kid. “Why?”

“Power,” said Mr. World. He scratched his chin. “And food. A combination of the two. You see, the outcome of the battle is unimportant. What matters is the chaos, and the slaughter.”

He then initiates the slaughter by killing the fat kid for having told him too much.

In chapter 18, the old gods debate if it’s time to make their move. Shadow drinks beer with Whiskey Jack, who says he’s a culture hero, not a god, and that it’s not going to be a war, but a bloodbath. Shadow finally sees that the war between the old and new gods is being engineered as Wednesday’s elaborate two-man con. He’s pulled from the underworld as Easter and the hawk-headed man free and revive him. Town thinks he’s in love with Laura; when they get to Rock City, she kills him right before he’s going to deliver the stick. Shadow flies to Rock City on the thunderbird Easter rode in on. Laura takes the stick in and finds Mister World, who turns out to be Loki. She stabs him with the stick as it becomes a spear, and she dedicates his death to Shadow. As Shadow’s entering Rock City, he hears Wednesday’s voice tell him that he, Shadow, was the misdirection in the coin trick. He finds Loki, who’s still alive and has managed to throw the spear. They were playing both sides, creating a massacre in which all deaths would be dedicated to Odin, allowing him to gain a ton of power back through the sacrifice of all the dead gods. Loki dies but Wednesday says they’ll both be brought back, because the game is rigged. Shadow says rigged games are the easiest to beat, and goes out on the battlefield and tells everyone what Odin and Loki were up to and succeeds in convincing them to stop the battle. Afterwards he finds Laura, who was also stabbed by the spear when she stabbed Loki. He take the coin from around her neck and she dies. END PART 3.

In chapter 19, an Epilogue, Shadow and Mr. Nancy drive to Florida and Shadow sings cathartic karaoke at a bar. He dreams of the buffalo-headed man who commends him for making peace and tells him that he, the buffalo man, is the land. Shadow remembers being told it was important to remember “It’s in the trunk” when he was on the tree.

In chapter 20, Shadow returns to Lakeside and goes out on the thin ice of the barely frozen lake to the klunker, where he finds the body of Alison McGovern in the trunk right before the car crashes through the ice (it is the day he picked for the raffle). He almost drowns, but then someone pulls him up. He wakes up in Hinzelmann’s bathtub wondering how Hinzelmann could have gotten him there singlehandedly. He accuses Hinzelmann of killing all those kids and asks why he let him live; Hinzelmann says he owed Wednesday a debt. He gave the town a lake and prosperity in return for one kid a year. Mulligan shows up and overhears, and Hinzelmann throws a fire poker at him, and Mulligan shoots him dead. Shadow remembers when he made snow and channels his energy to eliminate the day’s events from Mulligan’s head. Shadow goes to see Sam the hitchhiker but she’s with a woman so he just leaves her flowers. He then goes to see Czernobog, who merely taps him with the sledgehammer.

In the postscript, Shadow, enjoying his freedom, travels to Reykjavik, where he’s visited by an old man who says he’s Odin. Shadow gives him back his eye via a coin trick. THE END.

Or almost the end. Many of these aforementioned chapters end with a section involving different characters, in which something extreme or unnatural happens; many of these sections read as stand-alone short stories. In chapter 1’s section, “Somewhere in America,” a man has intensely pleasurable sex with a woman whose vagina then swallows him whole.

In chapter 3’s section, “A.D. 813,” a bard on a ship

…sang of Odin, the All-Father, who was sacrificed to himself as bravely and as nobly as others were sacrificed to him. He sang of the nine days that the All-Father hung from the world-tree, his side pierced and dripping from the spear-point’s wound, and he sang them all the things the All-Father had learned in his agony: nine names, and nine runes, and twice-nine charms. When he told them of the spear piercing Odin’s side…

These Northmen sailors in pre-Viking America make human sacrifices to Odin, but then are wiped out by a group they took a sacrifice from. When the Vikings arrive a hundred years later, they find the gods Odin, Tyr, and Thor waiting for them.

In chapter 4’s section, “1721,” Mr. Ibis is writing in his journal about how American history is fictional. He writes about Essie Tregowan, a British woman who loved listening to tales about “piskies” (who are apparently red-haired men) and was sentenced to “transportation” to America for helping rob a family she worked as a maid for, but convinces the ship captain to marry her and take her back to England, where she’s eventually discovered and sentenced to a life term of transportation. In Virginia she tells her children tales of, among others, the piskies, whom she still makes offerings to. “She told them all these things, and they believed, because she believed.” She convinces the man she’s an indentured servant to to marry her and manages the farm well after he dies until one of her sons kills one of her others (his half brother) in a dispute over it. As an old lady she encounters a red-haired man, who proposes to her, and she dies. (We’ll later recognize this piskie as Mad Sweeney the leprechaun.)

In chapter 7’s section, “Somewhere in America” (again), we get the story of Salim, who’s in NYC on a business trip from Oman trying to peddle cheap touristy trinkets from his brother-in-law’s factory. After Salim’s last-ditch effort to entice a big company as a customer, he’s considering hurling himself in front of a cab, but then gets in one instead with a driver who turns out to be a “jinn,” as he sees from the man’s eyes when he accidentally knocks off his sunglasses. They have passionate sex that night and Salim wakes to find the jinn gone, along with his wallet and souvenir trinkets, which the jinn has replaced with his own, and so Salim goes off to assume his identity.

In chapter 11’s section, “Coming to America 1778,” Mr. Ibis writes another story, of twins sold by their uncle. Wututu and Agasu, sold from Africa and wind up in America, are separated as slaves. Agasu dies young; Wututu continues to worship the African gods and becomes renowned for knowing things among her people, and eventually meets her brother’s ghost.

In chapter 12’s section, “Interlude,” we’re told that the war has started though no one knows it, and we see the goddess Bilquis, a half demon who works as a prostitute, killed by a john who picks her up who knows who she is.

In chapter 13’s section, “14,000 BC,” nomads roamed the Northern Plains who worshipped the skull of a mammoth as a god, and who tells them (after they ritualistically eat dried mushrooms) to migrate, but one woman, Atsula, refuses to listen, as she believes gods come from their hearts, but they go anyway, crossing a land bridge to a new land. THE END.

In an interview included after the audiobook, Gaiman states that the book’s structure is simple–a journey, road trip, The Odyssey. He also says the book has two main characters: Shadow, and America. It seems Shadow is the “anthropomorphized personification“ of America’s shadow self, as per Gaiman’s (as per Wikipedia) “trademark use of anthropomorphic personification of various metaphysical entities.” He’s also potentially, ironically, through his acting out of the Norse myth at the apparent age of 33, a Christ-figure. 

Gaiman keeps us turning pages with the question of what exactly the endeavor is that Wednesday has enlisted Shadow’s help with. There are clues pretty quickly (end of chapter 1 quickly) that Wednesday has got mysterious capabilities, and with Laura’s rising from the dead on top of that, we’re pretty intrigued to know how such things could happen. Gaiman also pulls off the reader’s believing in the reality of Laura’s resurrection with the specificity of the physical details–that she’s “still wearing the navy blue suit they had buried her in,” her “odor of rot, of flowers and preservatives,” the fact that she can’t taste her cigarette, that her coin still has “black dirt” on it, her tongue being “cold, and dry, and it tasted of cigarettes and of bile,” the smell of “cigarettes and preservatives” that lingers after she leaves.

Gaiman brings similar detail to bear on the believability of the gods themselves:

He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil mustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast’s mane; and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with blackflies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ocher leaf.

This is where we also get to know more about Wednesday’s true identity:

“I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me. I am called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-Bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.”

Curiously, he omits the name Odin. This is trickery, showing us his capacity for deception even here; he’s not putting it up front that that’s who he is just like he’s not putting up from what he’s really enlisting everyone’s “help” for…though Shadow calls him out for being Odin just a moment later.

Another way Gaiman secures the reader’s belief in this wacky concept is by having a protagonist who is in the position of being equally skeptical. This protagonist, too, is convinced by appeals to his senses (and a dream that entreated him to “believe”):

I don’t really believe, Shadow thought. I don’t believe any of this. Maybe I’m still fifteen. Mom’s still alive and I haven’t even met Laura yet. Everything that’s happened so far has been some kind of especially vivid dream. And yet he could not believe that either. All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.

Gaiman himself admits that rendering the believability of the concept was part of what he enjoyed about the process, having prior experience in that arena:

As I was writing [an old sequence in the Sandman series] I kept expecting the whole suspension-of-disbelief mechanism to collapse, you know, you’re asking people to believe how many impossible things can you believe, and how can you possibly have all these different pantheons around and standing next to each other directly in the same environment? And what I discovered was they worked just fine, if you do them with belief, if you grant them a certain amount of credibility, they will look after you. So when I came to write American Gods, I knew that was gonna work, that was one piece of the equation that I figured would definitely work, because I’d seen it work before and I loved it, I loved the feeling that you get when you get, that moment when they’re all going up the hill, to Rock City, and they’ve all gathered there, the moment, even when you’ve got them all at the House on the Rock, and just the idea that you can have Anancy the African spider god and Odin, and Czernobog, these three grumpy old men-well, Nancy isn’t that grumpy–but it was a delight.  

His real stroke of genius is personifying gods that had not been conceived of in such a sense before, which appropriately comes to its most satisfying fruition in the Rock City climax:

There were car gods there: a powerful, serious-faced contingent, with blood on their black gloves and on their chrome teeth: recipients of human sacrifice on a scale undreamed-of since the Aztecs. Even they looked uncomfortable. Worlds change.

And, as the AV Club review puts it,

Shadow’s solid, believable grounding in the minute trivia of the real world rivals the book’s grounding in the fantastic and arcane world of ancient theologies; those two aspects meet and merge to form a cohesive, compelling whole that approaches Gaiman’s finest work.

Gaiman spent a significant amount of time developing gods not through developing their actual characters, but by offering stories, in the sections at the end of some of the chapters, of the people who had brought the gods over here in the first place. So much time is spent on these sections it seems like they’re setup for something more significant, like, for instance, these particular gods figuring heavily in the final battle at Rock City, or playing some role in Shadow’s getting there, as Easter does. It’s interesting (though perhaps disappointing for a plot-oriented reader) that in the end the work they do seems to be predominantly thematic, with the exception of the story that involves Mad Sweeney, whose coin bringing Laura back to life winds up being the gesture that undoes all of Wednesday’s plans.

Another notable aspect of Gaiman’s is foreshadowing. Coin tricks figure heavily throughout the book. From chapter 7:

“Come on,” said the man in the gold-rimmed spectacles to the dog, “it was only a coin trick. It’s not like he was doing an underwater escape.”

“Not yet,” said the dog. “But he will.”


“How To Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” Write Up by Chaise Jones

Techniques/ Elements Tracked:

  • Second person point of view using “you”
  • Actions of characters to portray stereotypes and social classes
  • Thoughts of narrator that subtly reveal a fact

“How to Date a Brown Girl (Black girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” by Junot Díaz is a how-to manual on dating and creating sexual relations with stereotypical girls. It starts by the narrator convincing his mother to let him stay at home; after being left alone, he hides any signs or evidence that would embarrass him in front of girls. Then after cleaning up, he waits for the girl to show up; depending on where she’s from and what race she is, she may arrive at a different time. This is the beginning of a stereotype-filled piece. Next, they run into a neighborhood bully, in which different types of girls would react to the nuisance. At dinner, the narrator will treat or perform differently based on her ethnicity. They make their way back to his house, where he again has “choices.” The two drink from an old bottle of alcohol. The night will play out different if the girl is white (remember, stereotypically) than if she is a halfie. The narrator, in the end, after the decline or acceptance of sexual relations, is left alone. In the empty house, by himself, ready to put the house back together so his mother will not get mad. All of this is hypothetical.

One thing that initially drew me in when I was looking for a short story was the title, but besides that the second-person point of view. So rarely do we read a narrative like that, it was almost like a simulation. For example,

You have choices. If the girl’s from around the way, take her to El Cibao for dinner. Order everything in your busted-up Spanish.

The use of second-person point of view gives the narrator a peek into the mind of a “common” teenage boy and his thoughts, while also making the reader the teenage boy. These thoughts in the piece may not reflect the beliefs of the audience, which intrigue the reader to read on.

If she’s a whitegirl you know you’ll at least get a hand job.

Lines like this definitely contradict my feelings, and we all know it depends on the actual person. Using a different point of view in fiction can change the whole aspect of the story.

Another element that draws the reader in is the actual actions, or hypothetical actions, of each of the different characters throughout the piece. These actions show the actual stereotypes that are/were presumed to be believed. The narrator doesn’t outright say that a “halfie” is a bit more outgoing, but shows this by their actions, the show don’t tell principle.

In school she is known for her attention-grabbing laugh, as high and far-ranging as a gull, but here she will worry you.

Using actions to convey information about the characters make the writing a bit more to the reader’s experience.

The inner emotion and thoughts of the character also is another technique that made this story so intriguing. The narrator hints at their ethnicity by showing their thoughts and actions.

Don’t tell her that your moms knew right away what it was, that she recognized its smell from the year the United States invaded your island.

And another example,

Hide the pictures of yourself with an Afro.

These sentences give the reader hints about the narrator’s ethnicity, which you think would be mentioned since he is judging all of these girls based on their race.

The author does not scream at us that the narrator himself was a minority race that is always picked on. He left a bunch of little Easter eggs for the reader to pick up on and this does not really distract the reader from the point the author is trying to get across.

Make sure the bathroom is presentable. Put the basket with all the crapped-on toilet paper under the sink. Spray the bucket with Lysol, then close the cabinet.

One thing I would also like to mention about the main character is that like other males, he comes across as confident, but underneath there are some self-esteem problems. And in the end, he was alone anyway. And that he only really wanted physical intimacy and didn’t care for emotional intimacy.

(1) I would like to incorporate this into my future writing, planting little hints that do not stray from the major plot to reveal a little bit more about a character. I feel that it is important to give your reader something to think about in the back of their minds, something that they can connect to the main story and have an OH moment. I have always wanted to use second person, but never really understood the concept. In the piece second person is like a simulator. And it actually is all hypothetical, there is not even an actual date. (2) Another thing I will be using in my future writing, is dropping a subtle subplot to make the readers think and connect the dots. Whenever there is something else to dig up in a story, the reader becomes more interested and it adds another layer of meaning to the piece. (3) Show don’t tell is also always important in writing. (4) One last thing I would like to mention is that adding a bit of race or social class to a story adds a bit to the characterization to the characters and their surroundings. When there is not race mentioned, some people’s brain automatically goes to the default race (normally their own, or the people they grew up around). It is important to add things like this to give the reader a better picture; I will definitely add this to my writing.


  1. Though it might be a bit tricky to pick out, what did you interpret as the theme of this piece?
  2. What is the significance of Howie? Was the bully important to the story?
  3. Why would the narrator think to take the date to Wendy’s if they were from out of town? Why not to El Cibao? Do restaurants make different impressions?

“The Doll’s House” Write Up by Zoe Vastakis


This story begins with the Burnell family receiving a doll house from Mrs. Hay. They left it in the backyard because it smelled so strongly of paint. The house is so tiny and perfect and adorable that the children are able to look over the terrible smell though. They unhook the house, and it opens from the side, so that we are able to get a peek into every room of the house. Not only was everything perfect on the outside, but the inside was intricately detailed and guess what.. Perfect. Shocker. Keiza says that her favorite thing about the house is the tiny little lamp. She thinks the dolls are a little too big for the house, and a little too stiff, but the light is perfect with its little moving oil on the inside. The next day, the Burnell children were so excited to tell everyone about their new house. Isabel is telling the other girls, Kieza and Lottie that she going to be the one to tell everyone about the house, and invite two people to come over to see it. That’s right. I said “see” it, because no other child is allowed to play with the house. By lunchtime all of these girls come around to listen to Isabel talk about her magnificent new doll house. We then learn that the Burnells are classy: the only reason they are going to this school is because it’s the only school around for miles. So their are people of mixed… “social classes” within the school. While the Burnells were the highest class of the story, the Kelvey’s are the lowest. Most kids wouldn’t even speak to them and they turned their noses up at them! (kids are the worst). Their mother was a washerwoman and their father was supposedly in jail, no one really knew. The two Kelvey girls were named Lil and Else. They wore tattered clothing and just looked ratty. Lil never really smiles and Else doesn’t talk, just holds onto Lil’s skirt and uses that almost as a form of communication.

Back to the playground, so the Kelvey girls were also listening in on Isabell talking about her doll house. Isabel tells all of the girls about the house and invites the two girls over. They fawn over her and whatever, and eventually, every person comes over and sees the house but the Kelvey girls. One night over dinner, Kezia asks her mother if she can please have the Kelvey girls over to come look at the house, but her mother says no and that’s the end of it.

The next day Isabell is sitting with two people: Jessie May and Lena Logan, and Miss Lena (the brat) says that she thinks that Lil is going to be a servant when she grows up. Jessie dares Lena to go tell Lil this (even though Lil was the one who sort of propositioned it) and Lena goes up to Lil and tells her “you’re going to be a servant.” Oh, dear old Lil just smiles and acts like it doesn’t affect her, which pisses Lena off until she screams that their daddy is in prison. The Kelvey’s are ashamed and run away. The three girls felt so powerful afterwards. That afternoon, the Burnell children are at home when Kieza sees the Kelvey girls walking her way. She invites them in to see the house, but Lil tells her that she doesn’t want to get in trouble. Else tugs on Lil’s skirt, so they go in to see the house, and they think it’s beautiful. However, Aunt Beryl comes in and screams at the Kelvey girls and leave and talks to them basically like they’re animals. Then she yells at Kieza, and she feels better afterwards, almost powerful. We go to the Kelvey’s house and the two girls are talking, and we end with Else smiling and saying she saw the lamp.

Chronic: this sort of idea of status, and everyone beating each other down to feel better.

Acute: Could be either the scene where Lena goes off on the Kelveys or the Aunt going off on them, more so the aunt though.

What’s Compelling.

I thought the power struggle that is seen throughout the entire piece is what really pulled me in. I also thought it was interesting how we see this idea of class and need for power from adults to children. Aunt Beryl goes off on the Kelveys and Keiza because she had gotten a threatening letter from this man that said he was going to her door if she didn’t meet up with him, and she had wanted to feel powerful. Isabell immediately shows off her power by stating she is the oldest therefore she should be the one who tells people everything. You see the harshness that can come from children when they tease the Kelveys during recess. It’s just these little moments of cruelty I think that are what pulled me in. And that it was a little girl who was able to see passed it all.  Also, this was not only shown through her actions of inviting the girls in, but the fact that her favorite thing in the house is this light bulb. She doesn’t care about its extravagance. The detailed walls and miniature furniture, but the lightbulb. Light = symbol of enlightenment. Not a very elaborate metaphor but whatever. Oh my gosh though, the fact that Elsie said she saw the lamp, as in she saw someone who was able to see passed all of this class BS was such a beautiful ending. It made it an almost semi-happy ending!

I was also intrigued by the differences in the relationships within the Kelveys family and the Burnell’s. The Kelvey girls are close: communicate in public in a way that isn’t verbal. They just get each other, and it’s through these small actions. However, the Burnells, who do talk to each other, are so focused on this whole power struggle going on within their families that they don’t really see past that. None of the other girls understand what Kieza means when she talks about the lamp. They just think it’s cool that there is oil in it, when there is SO MUCH MORE!

I loved this non-complex metaphor thing going on. How it was brought up throughout the piece and wasn’t slap you in the face obvious, but also wasn’t so deep you could dig to China and not see it. I also love the idea of the power struggle trickling down from adult to children. Maybe I wouldn’t use the whole power thing, but I just love the idea of the butterfly affect/people who learn from observing the behavior of others. I think that would create a nice tension in any piece.

“Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed” Write Up by Kyra McNally Albers

In “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed,” by Ray Bradbury, the Bittering family moves to Mars to escape an atom war on Earth. Mr. Bittering is uneasy and reluctant to live here; he says that the place was meant for Martians, not Earth people like them- but this is their safest option. A few days after their arrival to Mars, news comes from Earth that New York has been bombed- no more rockets to Mars. Mr. Bittering is devastated; up until then he had consoled his restlessness toward living on Mars with the o knowledge that he could buy a ticket back to Earth at any time if he wanted to. Later, while he is gardening, he notices that the peach blossoms and vegetables are different somehow, although he cannot quite tell how. Later they find that their grass is turning violet and their cow has grown a third horn. Mr. Bittering is afraid that interacting with this stuff for much longer may result in them changing, too. He resolves to build a rocket himself. In town, he finds that none of the other colonists are upset by the news of the bombing on Earth. Sam hands him a mirror, and he sees that he has developed golden specks in his eyes. He drops the mirror and gets to work on the rocket. A few days later they run out of food from Earth, and he is forced to eat food from their garden. Cora, his wife, invites him to go swimming with her and the children. He reluctantly agrees. While they are swimming, he asks Cora how long her eyes have been yellow, and she replies always, and that the children’s eyes have changed to yellow, which is completely normal for children. His son Tim asks to change his name to Linnl, and they agree without thinking too much about it. Throughout the next week, building the rocket becomes less and less important in Mr. Bittering’s mind. He and his family decide to move up to an old Martian villa for the summer, leaving most of their belongings behind in their settlement. They later decide to come back “next year, or the year after, or the year after that.” A few years later, a rocket comes from Earth to rescue them. They find the colonial villages abandoned, with only tall, dark, golden-eyed Martians living up in their villas. They decide that a plague of some sort must have wiped out the colony. The story ends with the humans naming landmarks after American leaders.

A couple of things I found that made this story compelling, besides its unique plot, were the use of figurative language (of all types) and foreboding.

A family moves to Mars and slowly turns into Martians- a pretty unnerving topic to start out with. But I felt that the element of the story that really topped it off was the figurative language. The author uses figurative language copiously throughout the piece, especially in the beginning. For example, on the first page:

He picked up the luggage in his cold hands. ‘Here we go,’ he said- a man standing on the edge of a sea, ready to wade in and be drowned.

This metaphor gives us a peek at exactly how Mr. Bittering feels about this move- not just his opinion, but the exact sensation he gets when he thinks about living on Mars. We get so much more from this piece of figurative language than we would if the author had simply said “Mr. Bittering was unsettled by the idea of living on Mars.” The same goes for the line:

I feel like a salt crystal,’ he often said, ‘in a mountain stream, being washed away.’


At any moment the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from white bone.

This not only shows figurative language, but foreboding as well; in the end, you could say that the Martian air did draw his soul from him, in the sense that he lost his identity due to the move to Mars. This story is packed with foreboding that you may not pick up on until the second or even third time reading it. One example of this is how the author says things like “sun-browned hand” and “burnt almost black by the sun” throughout the piece. While on the surface it seems like the people are getting extremely sunburned; only later does it become evident that they were actually transforming into dark Martians. Another example is when Mr. and Mrs. Bittering are talking in the canal and she says it’s normal for children’s eyes to change color. Mr. Bittering replies:

“Maybe we’re children, too. At least to Mars.”

This could just seem like an offhand thought at first, but once we know a little more about the plot, we can see that this is true in the sense that Mars is changing them.

These are both things I would like to imitate with my own writing. I find it makes writing more flavorful, and it makes the reader more easily sucked in to the story.

Some questions:

-What lesson, if any, do you think we were meant to learn from this story?

-The Bitterings own a voice clock that sings “Tick tock, seven o’clock” at seven in the morning, just like the clock in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by the same author. Do you think there is any connection?

-Why do you think Ray Bradbury chose to make Bittering the only defiant character? Why aren’t there other characters who try to resist the change?

“Hunters in the Snow” Write Up by Anaya Bonds

In the third-person narrative “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff, three friends, Kenny, Frank, and Tub, go on a hunting trip. Kenny drives his truck up onto the sidewalk, and might have run over Tub if he hadn’t jumped out of the way, and then make their way to the hunting site. Kenny and Frank begin to search for tracks on one side of the creek, and Tub on the other. Because of his weight, he ends up sinking into the snow, and forgets to check for tracks. As they walk back towards the truck, the group comes across some deer tracks that Tub had crossed over on his way to find them. The tracks lead to someone’s property with a no hunting sign, and the group then goes to ask for permission. Obtaining permission, they then head after the deer. The property owner’s dog barks at them, and Kenny scares it away by dropping onto his knees and barking. They end up finding the tracks don’t lead to anything after walking for a while. Kenny being frustrated declares he hates a fence post, and shoots it, repeating this with a tree and the dog, killing it. He then says this to Tub, and as Kenny raises his gun, Tub shoots him first. They then return to the property owner’s house to call for an ambulance, but the hospital is too far away and all the ambulances are busy. Once Tub and Frank manage to haul Kenny into the trunk, they start off using some instructions to the hospital they were given by the property owner’s wife. Stopping twice to warm themselves, they discuss their personal problems while Kenny is forced to stay in the truck. At the first stop, Tub leaves the instructions to get to the hospital on the table, but Frank insists he remembers them well enough. They end up driving the opposite direction from the hospital, Kenny left believing he is going to the hospital.

Something that stood out almost right away was how different the three friends were. Kenny can’t seem to take anything seriously and feels superior to the other two hunters. Frank is more concerned about being accepted and his relationships than anything else, and always seems to be backing up the “alpha” of the group, who starts off as Kenny, then switches to Tub after he shoots Kenny. Tub is very emotional and sensitive, as when he shoots Kenny, he’s the one bawling his eyes out. He also is passive aggressive, as he is always the butt of the jokes in the group, because of his weight, and these jokes seem to be normal and he only snaps at Frank when he drops Kenny, and Frank calls him a “fat moron.” I also looked at a few biographies on Tobias Wolff, and they said as a child, he was abused by his step-father and often lied in a way of defending himself, which is reflected into Tub, who is verbally abused by his friends and lies, saying:

“What am I supped to do?” Tub said. “It’s my glands.”

When he later reveals that it wasn’t his glands, and that he just constantly ate and almost couldn’t stop himself. I also saw that he was in the U.S. army and fought in the Vietnam War, which might help explain Kenny neglecting the fact that Tub has emotions, and Tub later also neglecting Kenny’s health, as war is something people can’t forget, with all the horrific sights and actions he probably witnessed, and would only make sense to be reflected into his work, even if it’s not completely intentional.

All throughout this story, all three characters seem to be more concerned with their own well-being than anything. Although this could be seen as self-preservation, they seem to completely disregard that the others are alive. As we are introduced to Tub at the beginning of the story, Kenny greets Tub with:

“You ought to see yourself,” the driver said. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?”

which almost hints that this emotional degrading is probably normal for Tub. Not only does Kenny insult Tub, but he also tries to drag Frank into it, and he successfully does, as multiple times it’s Frank who brings in the insults first, like

“Stop bitching, Tub. Get centered.”

“Tub,” he said, “you haven’t seen your own balls in ten years.”

“You fat moron,” Frank said. “You aren’t good for diddly.”

After Kenny is shot, and Tub and Frank go to call an ambulance, they leave him alone outside instead of bringing him inside or at least one of them staying with him. Later, when they are carrying Kenny to the truck and Tub trips, Frank and Tub are too busy arguing to check on Kenny who is bleeding and rolling down the driveway,

Just past the house Tub slipped and threw out his hands to catch himself.

Instead of trying to keep Kenny from falling down the driveway, Tub prioritizes himself, who isn’t the injured one.

Outside in the parking lot there were several jeeps and trucks. A couple of them had deer strapped across their hoods.

He was jackknifed over the tailgate, his head hanging above the bumper. They lifted him back into the bed, and covered him again.

When I read over these two lines, I saw Kenny like a deer strapped onto the truck. Almost as if he was the game they caught for the year, because they were definitely treating him like a deer corpse. The way its described how they just slid him back into the trunk and cover him up is like he had just slid off the truck a bit and they need to push him back. Kenny is also described in a way that makes him seem like he is a corpse, “head hanging above the bumper” could probably be used to also describe the position of one of the deer on the other vehicles.

“I left the directions on the table back there.”

“That’s okay. I remember them pretty well.”

The dis-concern of not having instructions, and the almost inevitability of them becoming lost and Kenny coming closer to death is just horrible, and they have stooped down to being no better than animals.

By reading this story, I was able to see how the author’s life was intertwined with his writing, even though the story wasn’t about him, some things just seemed to overlap into it. I think trying to take a life experience I had and change it into something completely fictional, yet have some small relations to my life, as it might put some more interesting spins into the plot.

Do you think that Frank and Tub intentionally neglected Kenny?

What do you think the story is trying to teach us?

Do you think that Frank could have compelled Tub to shoot Kenny?

What Fools these Mortals Be: An Analysis of Chris Adrian’s “A Tiny Feast” by Addison Antonoff


Therefore, a prologue:

Chris Adrian’s “A Tiny Feast” follows Titania and Oberon (if those names sound familiar, good! hopefully you’ll catch all the references I make to Midsummer) as they take care of a changeling (Boy) who is diagnosed with cancer. At rise, Titania and Oberon are talking to Dr. Blork and Dr. Beadle (which is used in Shakespeare to mean parish constable!) about Boy. The doctors try to comfort the two as they explain treatments.

Cue flashback to the arrival of Boy in their lives: he has a gift from Oberon to make up for a fight (apparently it’s easier to kidnap a child then to spring for a pearl necklace). They fight a lot, by the way. The author describes the care taking of Boy, and how they saw him more as an object than a creature.

Back to the hospital (just a heads up, we’ll be here a lot): Titania complains about how ugly the hospital and the workers are. These workers cannot see her magic – she has made the room beautiful. That doesn’t help much with her mood. Actually, she’s about to turn a social worker – Alice – into a cat when Oberon reenters the room. The “glamour” slips for a moment, and the social worker sees the true Titania. Alice sees more and more as Oberon and Titania start fighting.

Cue another flashback: At first Titania treated Boy like a pet, much like his Beastie. Gradually, he becomes more like a son to her, even tries to call her mommy. Which is good and all, until your child starts dying.

Again, in the hospital: a barrage of treatments. Titania doesn’t understand any of it. Oberon makes Doorknob (not a name from the original play) try some of the medicine. Doorknob goes nuts and Oberon knocks (heh) him out. Luckily, the medicine has a better effect on Boy. Arguably. He can at least sleep better, but when he wakes up, he’s hallucinating.

One day, a good day, he wakes up and says he’s hungry. Titania sends fairies off to get cheese sandwiches. They bring back a large selection. Boy picks one from the hospital cafeteria. Titania reflects on singing to him, and how his lack of discipline pissed off Oberon.

They can’t go home. Titania takes him on walks through the ward. He is no longer allowed to eat solid food. Oberon feeds him, Titania gets pissed, Boy throws up. All healthy, functional trademarks of a family. Time goes on. Boy keeps asking Titania for food. Just one, tiny feast (what is the title, alex?). She’s about to feed a chocolate bar to Boy when Oberon returns and says he has something better. They all cook a tiny meal together and the boy devours it.

Flashback time: Boy went missing, and Titania, fire-eyed maid of smoky war that she is, is about to bring an army down on his mortal mother. Luckily, they find him asleep. Anyways, back to the hospital.

Titania tells Oberon that Boy was a terrible gift. The cancer has gotten worse. She admits that she thinks that when the boy dies her love for Oberon will die, too. The doctor talks about letting Boy die, and Titania loses her glamour. She commands that the doctor do all mortally possible to save her changeling. Boy dies. The fairies build a bier out of the room and they all take him back to the fairy home. Beastie died of grief.

What visions have I seen (compelling things we can learn from):

Obviously, if Chris Adrian can take from Shakespeare, so can we. We can also take from Adrian.

  1. “Take pains. Be perfect.”
  2. Juxtaposition – this story is about two worlds colliding (hint: look at the green highlights!). It’s clear in the imagery (the magic vs what the mortals see, for example). Take two different universes and put them in the same space. Instead of romantic love (like in the play), this story focuses familial love. The tension between these two universes is very obvious – it’s been going on for a long time. This isn’t the first changeling, and Titania is about to go to war with a human. Obviously not the best of terms. This tension becomes unavoidable when Boy becomes sick. The chronic tension doesn’t throw a wrench between Boy and health, but it makes the attempts to cure him much more strained.
  3. But what makes this story good is that it goes beyond just stuffing two very different domains into one space. The rules have to be clear for each world. For the mortal world, there doesn’t need to be much exposition. The readers are familiar with it (until aliens knowingly become a part of our social structure, but that’s a different story), which gives Adrian time to expand on the “fun” stuff – the magic world. The exposition is woven into the story – Titania’s confusion in regards to the medicine (relatable, but is clearly different through her thoughts), the rush to fulfill Boy’s wishes (also relatable, but clearly different through the responding action).
  4. Use Shakespeare. It worked for Sondheim and Bernstein, Adrian, the Kirkpatricks…

Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down (question time):

  1. Why does the story follow Titania? How would it be different if the story focused on Oberon’s point of view?
  2. Does Titania become more or less likeable (or no change) throughout the story? Why? Oberon? Does this influence your like/dislike of the story?
  3. Why Titania and Oberon? What does the story have to gain from using these iconic characters? Does it help or hinder? How do you think it affected the writing process for this story?

“Boys” Write Up by Olivia Anderson

“Boys” by Rick Moody was about two twin boys who grew up together. Throughout the story, we are shown the conflicts that they endure together. We are told of how they undergo boyhood while learning more about the differences between the two of them and how they grow through their time together. It begins with the boys coming home from the hospital as newborns and we see their growth through all of their issues and their own ways of coping with them until they leave their home and become men after their father dies.

Growing up, the boys constantly tease their younger sister. It will later be revealed that the sister becomes very ill when the boys are about high school-aged and it is implied that she dies. The boys’ similarities are more prevalent in the beginning of the story and their differences increase as the story progresses. There is also sibling rivalry that is not present for the first part of the story. We are shown how the brothers used to be much closer but one, for example “can hit” a baseball while the other cannot. The boys may have been becoming increasingly different to one another each time they entered the house.

Reading this, I felt very nostalgic as did the main characters. Moody expressed the nostalgic feel through the repetition, and each time he said “Boys enter the house.” The mood of the story could have changed each time the quote was repeated, significantly more so than the last time it was stated. This is because the quick-paced rate of the story showed big details in the boys’ lives in only a couple of sentences.

The story made me feel sad for the boys after they grew up and were no longer boys. But the ending was not the only sad part of the story. When we are told that their younger sister is ill, her brothers try to find her dolls that they buried a long time ago, which was sweet and really depressing.

Also, phrases like “The boys are ugly, they are failures, they will never be loved, they enter the house,” are small but make you feel sad but kind of confused because it is just nonchalantly placed in between lines that have nothing to do with it, which is a small detail but tells us more about the author and what kinds of emotions he wants the readers to feel.

I would like to use a more poetic (almost) style in my writing like it was wonderfully executed by Moody here. There was lots of repetition here but it is not easy to get away with using so much of it and not having it sound annoying or cheesy, which I could try to use in some of my own pieces. The parallelism used between the very first and last sentences is something that I should incorporate into my story because the reader will enjoy seeing that you put an effort into the wording of the story. We can see it in boys used how he said “Boys enter the house,” in the first sentence and then he ended it with “Boys, no longer boys, exit the house.”

The characters are not one-dimensional, which I appreciated, even if the information we do get on them is very vague and sparse. The names the boys called each other told us what the characters saw in their brother but also told us more about them. The boys are not given names, but you can infer which twin is which when they say “one” and then “the other.” Their differences are shown more and more towards the end of the story and their mocking of each other peaks before their sister’s death, after which they significantly mature even though their coping methods are immature.

The growth in the characters is something very evident in this piece, which I never show enough of in my own work. There was no dialogue in this story, which actually is better in some pieces because it can leave questions unanswered and left for the reader to answer themselves. We are told very little about the setting, even though the house is mentioned in many of the sentences. It is cool how the author chose to have the readers view their lives from afar.

There could have been multiple themes in this story, but I mostly saw maturity, or lack thereof in this story to be a theme. The boys are quite youthful and playful at times when maybe they should not be, but I noticed that when their sister died, the twins both matured and “set aside their differences” to be with her.

After the death of their younger sister, they left a portion of their immaturity but one of them seemed to have recovered it, even If it was his own way of coping with grief. This was the boy who was driving while intoxicated after the wedding, was arrested, and started a huge car crash, essentially being an embarrassment to his twin. After the death of their father, though, the twins fully matured- it seemed. We can see this in the last sentence, “The boys, no longer boys, exit.”

Did the mood change throughout the story?

How and when did the mood change?

What are some of the conflicts in this story and did the conflicts affect the boys?