So a couple years back, I read Sandman, and I loved it. I was aware that Neil Gaiman had written prose in the intervening twenty years, but I'd never gone out of my way to read anything he's written. I always had, in the back of my mind, though, the expectation that I'd love anything he wrote. He sort of thinks the same way I do (well, so far as I can tell from quotes and interviews and never having met the chap personally). He's got all these fantastic quotes; he's clearly a very intelligent, highly creative person who is not merely
creative, but actively
creative, plumbing the depths of his own mind as few ever bother to.
Then I found out he and Gene Wolfe (my absolute favorite author in the multiverse) are friends. Well, that sealed the deal; I had to read one of Gaiman's books. So I picked up American Gods. Liked the quotes. The "travellers beware" was a bit cheesy, but whatever. The first chapter didn't thrill me, but hey, the entire first book
of Wolfe's New Sun
didn't thrill me the first time I read it. On I plunged.
Second chapter. Hmm.
Third chapter. ...
Fourth chapter. Alright...come on, now.
And so on. I kept waiting for it to get good, and suddenly five hundred pages had gone by and it never did. I'll explain myself. First off, the style was a bit...Chuck Palahniuk. And I don't mean that as a compliment by any stretch of the imagination; rather, I mean it seemed to have a gradeschool boy's over-fondness of swear words and sex/genitalia references. I don't mean I took offense, it just seemed juvenile; put in for the sake of it, or probably to try and set a gritty, realistic theme, which didn't work for me.
Second, the book was way too long. I love a good, long book as much as the next guy, but only when each page itself is concise. It just seemed like it took a thousand words to say what could've been said better in a hundred. The book only had about a hundred fifty pages worth of story, if you ask me. I got the sense that Gaiman, being so established and beloved, sort of brushed aside his editor for this one, because with every editor I've ever dealt with, the first thing they do is take whatever I've come up with and cut it in half by omitting unnecessary words and descriptions and even whole paragraphs. If Gaiman's editor did that, the original draft must've been 1,000 pages.
Third...see, here's the thing. Like I said, I loved Sandman, but I've gone back and began reading it again recently, looking at it critically (as opposed to merely enjoying the ride), and I hate to use the stereotype, and I never noticed it the first time, but Gaiman's narration (as opposed to his dialogue) throughout Sandman seemed a bit "angsty teenage girl" -ish. Very melodramatic, very floral, very artsy at the expense of substance. It has this "MySpace poetry" quality to it. I mean, it's all very fanciful and the substance itself wasn't problematic, just the way Gaiman chose to present that substance.
I always distinguish the two, by the way - the story unto itself, and the manner in which the author presents it. I think I loved Sandman for the story, and of course Dream is unintentionally hilarious
because he's so over-the-top melodramatic and dour amidst a world full of mostly regular people (including and perhaps most especially all the crazy non-human creatures). The story itself - what happens, the characters and so forth - were enjoyable, but Gaiman's own talents, while certainly not detracting whatsoever, didn't really add anything.
I'm torn. I think what it is is that Gaiman is really creative and has all these really good ideas, but isn't all that good at getting them out. Nor do I think the novel is a good medium for him. I kept thinking, while I was reading it, that American Gods would've been much, much better as a graphic novel or a comic book series. His mountains upon mountains of wasted words seemed to be trying and failing to evoke the same kind of imagery that the comic format so effortlessly does (since images are part of its nature).
I'm torn because I like Neil Gaiman, but I'm starting to feel that either he's not really very talented, or his talents are incredibly narrow in scope (a scope which doesn't include the novel). Which would be okay; I don't pretend that everything I like is "good" and everything I dislike is "bad." I like tons of "bad" stuff, and I don't like everything that's "good." But still. It's a confusing feeling.
Anyone else have this same ambivalence towards Neil Gaiman?