When I was about 14 or so, my family was in Wisconsin visiting relatives. We decided to go see Taliesin, but when we got there and my parents found out that tickets were like $50 a person, or maybe they were sold out or something, we had to find something else to do last minute. We ended up at the House on the Rock.
Now, if you’ve never been to the House on the Rock, I can’t do it justice with sheer words. I simply cannot. Do a Google image search for it, and that will give you a small idea, but really, the House on the Rock is a place that must be experienced. If it’s not the most oddball place in the U.S., it’s certainly in the top 5.
All that is to say that when the characters in American Gods (most of whom are, uh, gods) have a rendezvous at the House on the Rock it all made perfect sense. The House on the Rock is the perfect setting for a scene in a Neil Gaiman book. It makes more sense than the House actually existing in real life, because frankly the place is something out of a whimsical nightmare (aka, a Neil Gaiman book). There are two other landmarks used to denote important happenings–the geographic center of the U.S., and Rock City. As Gaiman puts it, other countries build temples, but Americans build roadside attractions.
Of course, American Gods runs for over 750 pages, and the House on the Rock scene is only one small part in an epic. The main character, an ex-con named Shadow, is being released from prison and is eager to get home to his wife and the promise of a steady job working for his best friend. The day before his release, however, he learns that his wife and friend were killed in a car accident. Soon, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job as a sort of personal assistant/bodyguard. Shadow soon learns that Mr. Wednesday and his friends are old, forgotten gods that came to the U.S. along with immigrants from their respective countries of origin. As immigrants with their varied beliefs came to the U.S., slowly the number of gods living here grew. A battle is coming, between these old gods and the new gods of America (the gods of media, the Internet, cars, etc.), and Shadow finds himself caught up in the middle.
A lot happens in this book and there’s no way I can address it all, or even most of it (hence my fixation on the House on the Rock–seriously, go there. Just to experience its weirdness). I was surprised by how much I liked American Gods. It took me a long time to read it, but then, it’s a long book and I read it in fits and starts. I would imagine that most Gaiman fans out there have already read it, and if you’ve never read Gaiman this would be a bit of an intimidating introduction–but a fun one.