Friday, March 27, 2009

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

America is a vast country with room for many. Inhabited by Natives and settled by peoples from across the globe, the continent embraces its people and the beliefs they bring with them, seeking solace and livelihood and freedom. It's a good thing the country is so goshdarn big because the people came from all over - from Scandinavia to Africa, from Ireland to India and all the places in between. They brought their gods and their demigods, their faeries and ifrits and boggles. The people brought their old gods and the land welcomed them, allowing them to settle and flourish. Until the people got a little more sophisticated and newer gods began to make themselves known: telecommunications, electricity, transportation, television. The old gods retreated in the face of modernity. And then they fought back.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is the story of the battle of these gods - and the man caught in the middle. Shadow is about to be released from doing his three years in prison when he is told that his wife Laura has been killed in a car crash. Bereft, travelling home for her funeral, he meets a charismatic grifter named Wednesday. Wednesday knows all about Shadow and offers him a job as sort of an aide de camp. Figuring why not, Shadow accepts.

Wednesday is more than he appears to be, however, and so is the rogues' gallery of his confederates to which he introduces his new employee: Mr. Nancy (Anansi), Czernobog, Whiskey Jack, Easter (Eostre) - all gods making their way in a now-hostile world. On a wild roadtrip through some of the U.S.'s more memorable roadside attractions (like this and this), Shadow finds himself entangled in an epic struggle that he had no idea was happening.

This is my kind of book, no question about it. As a kid I plundered the school and town libraries, reading (and re-reading) every mythology book I could get my hands on - Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Native American, Celtic, African. I devoured those stories. And now, finally, the stories have all come together in Gaiman's uber-capable hands. As I turned the pages of American Gods and discovered a different god - or an oblique reference to a different god - I had such fun trying to recall what I might still know about thunderbirds, Thoth, Anubis, Bast and Horus, Kali, Morrigan, kobolds, Urd's Well and Loki. (By the way, each of these deities play a role in this big book - and that's not all of them!)

I loved this book. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Devoured it. Reread pages because they were so good. Got cranky when I realized I was nearing the end. In fact, I would venture to say that I had the exact opposite reaction to American Gods as I did to that friggin' stupid Mermaid Chair book. It's not all gods and monsters - Gaiman is nearly poetic about road-trips and small towns, and there's a murder to be solved - but while this is clearly fantasy, it doesn't have that swords-and-sorcery feel to it. American Gods reads easy like a straight-fiction thriller ... it just happens to be about, well, gods and monsters.


  1. Hey -- I'm reading that book now. It's true what they say about great minds.

  2. Us cuzzins is wicked smart!

    I can't believe it took me so long to discover Neil Gaiman. Everything I've watched/read thus far (AG, MirrorMask, Neverwhere, M is for Magic) has just been great. It's not fair that one guy gets to be so talented.