My rating: 4 of 5 stars
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods is a love letter to old mythology and America as a land and people. Told with Gaiman’s unblinking eye, the story follows Shadow from prison to the wilds of Georgia, crisscrossing the country in an apologetic view of how old myths can survive in the modern world. This review is based on the 10th Anniversary Author’s Preferred Text.
Be warned, thar may be spoilers.
Shadow gets out of prison to find the love of his life dead and a job offer. Taking up with Mr. Wednesday, he meets a menagerie of oddball folks who wish to either smash his brains in or smash his groin in while recruiting for a war Shadow knows nothing about. Side trips to a small, frozen town and eclectic San Francisco are just a small taste of the amount of locations Shadow and Wednesday pass through on their recruiting effort. Behind them are a shadowy government-type agency and a dead woman. It’s a hoot.
Our protagonist Shadow is a mess of a person. We get little of his backstory, even his name is secret. At first, I found him unbelievable. He accepts this new world a little too well, going along with all the weird dreams and god talk as if, hey, that stuff happens, right? But then I looked back on how he was introduced to us. Gaiman breaks this character from the start like a prison bitch, blank slates the man with horrific news of his wife’s death and then the worst funeral one could imagine. Also, looking back, there is some fridge logic in how Shadow’s heritage might give him a more aptitude for the weird.
As for the secondary characters, all of them are a little shallow but entertaining. This book sets them up as a horror movie would set up a group of teenagers, all worse than the last, waiting until the big bad comes along to stuff them into sleeping bags and beat them against trees. I admit that is unfair because I did say they were entertaining. I enjoyed seeing how Gaiman constructed each ancient deity and placed them in modern day but wished we could have stuck with a core group rather than the pantheon presented.
The plot and setting of this book go hand in hand. It’s right there on the cover, a dark road with lightning crashing down on a solitary figure. This book is about America, the American Dream, hopes, ideals, identity, et cetera and so forth. And in that vein it is scattered and different. Sections of the book are rich with characters and people bouncing off each other while other sections are lonely, desolate places I wished Shadow would simply run from. My personal favorite were the quiet moments with a couple of folk just sharing time and a beer. I think that if you have traveled this land enough, spent time on the back roads and cities of America, you will also find your favorite part of the book corresponds with your favorite places in this country.