REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fantasy, Pages: 522, Reading Level: Easy/ Intermediate

Book Description:

A storm is coming…

 Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

 But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

 Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined- it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Unfortunately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing- an epic war for the very soul of America- and that he is standing squarely in its path.

 Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations.

I find American Gods a little challenging to review because it is one of those books that is best undertaken with no knowledge of the details. Part of the fun is figuring out what the book is really about. At some point you may discover the book is completely different than what you were thinking, although that might be a little inaccurate because you really weren’t sure what it was about to begin with.

There is so much to discuss in this book and part of me wants to say, “This book has been out for a while. Just write the review!” On the other hand, the book was released in 2001 and I had no idea what it was really about. The process of discovering the truth was so much fun and in the end, I do not want to cheat you of that.

I will first make a few general, non-specific comments about American Gods and then I will mark the next section as containing spoilers. However please do not read it if you plan to read the book; you’ll enjoy it more that way.

In short, the writing is phenomenal:

But the conditions of transportation were such that, for some, it was easier to take the leap from the leafless and dance on nothing until the dancing was done. p85

That is probably the most eloquent description of a hanging I have ever read in my life and also convinces me that Gaiman’s more rabid fans are completely justified. I may soon join their ranks. I read this quote and it stopped me in my tracks. I must have read the sentence three or four times before moving on, thinking about how beautiful it is and then reminding myself it was about hanging to death and then experiencing a pang of mortification because I was looking at something such as hanging as beautiful and how I would not think so if I were the one hanging… See what I mean? And that is just one sentence in a 522 page novel.

I found the story to be mesmerizing and it is always such a joy to get to that point in the book where you don’t want to put it down, where you’d rather stay up all night to finish it and suffer the consequences in the morning rather than do the sensible thing and go to bed at a reasonable hour because you have two school-aged kids. I live for those moments.

Normally, with this kind of book I would include a warning about the topic, which I cannot do without including a really big spoiler. In addition, there is sex in the book, one scene which is just so bizarre, it makes me wonder what on earth is going on in Neil Gaiman’s head, and I am far from a prude. Seriously Mr. Gaiman, how do you come up with this stuff?

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend this book and since I can’t give a warning without spoilers, if there is something that will really offend you, read the description and some reviews, although those won’t help with the sex scenes. For most people, I recommend you begin this book without reading any summaries or reviews, other than this one of course!

If you have no idea what the book is about and intend to read it, please PLEASE do not read further. If after the comments above, you still do not intend to read the book, maybe read the rest of the review; hopefully it will change your mind.

SPOILERS! THE REST OF THIS REVIEW WILL ABSOLUTELY CONTAIN SPOILERS, SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW DETAILS, DO NOT READ FURTHER.

Dooty doo…

Dooty doo…

Just want to leave a little space….

Don’t want people to accidentally read a spoiler while reading the last paragraph of the non-spoiler section of this review…

Okay, that should do it…

American Gods is about gods and a showdown between old gods and new gods is on the horizon. The old gods are the traditional gods, i.e. Hindu gods, Christian gods, African gods, Norse gods, etc. The new gods are those of science, technology, etc., i.e. the god of technology, the god of TV, etc.

But the book doesn’t come right out and tell you who these gods are right away; they have different names. That is actually the fun part, figuring out which character is which god. With a little research, and foreign language skills also help, you can figure most of them out. There are a couple that still seem to be under debate.

However, I did have a harder time figuring out the technology gods. Some are obvious- Mr. World, Mr. Town, Ms. Media. Some, not so obvious- there is one that has scalpels all over the place but looks cancerous. Who is that? Mr. Cancer? Mr. Biopsy? There is one with phosphor-dots on her face and seems very concerned about Mr. Cancer’s feelings. Eh? Ms. Therapy? If so, why does she have phosphor-dots on her face? Maybe she is Ms. Dr. Phil Show. I did some research and still have not figured those out.

My version of the book has discussion questions in the back and I was surprised at how lacking they seemed to me. The discussion questions I would propose would probably end up causing arguments since so many people have lost the ability to debate without getting personal. For example, for me American Gods brings up questions such as-

  • Did God create man or did man create God?
  • Is there an evolutionary reason for a belief in God?
  • Is there any one correct religion?
  • Once something is determined to be impossible, is there any reason to pursue any further insight into it?

And that barely scratches the surface. I have started to come up with discussion questions based on specific quotes. At some point my list of discussion questions may end up longer than this review. That is the potential of this book. If it weren’t for the bizarro sex scene, I would want my kids to read and discuss/debate this novel in their senior year of high school. As I mentioned previously, I truly believe there is a lack of intellectual debate in today’s society and we are the worse for it. This book provides a plethora of discussion opportunities.

I think one of the things I liked most about American Gods is that the title should have given away what the book was about. I love when things are hiding in plain sight. However, the reason I waited so long to read this book is because I thought it was a political or corporate thriller. I cannot possibly be the first person to have made that mistake. In addition, the very first page of the story gives a huge clue as to who the real characters are, and I completely missed it. That’s how well the story is written. It just did not dawn on me that a ridiculously clear clue would appear on the very first page.

Read it. If you are offended by anything, feel free to yell at me with all caps in the comments. I wanted to leave you with my favorite quote, but it is in a portion that was cut. So I will leave you with one of my favorites:

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. p477

Reviewed by Christina
February 18, 2014

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