Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2001 (Bantam Spectra)
Date Started: March 20, 2012 Date Finished: April 16, 2012
Worthy of Note: celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011 with a special “Author’s Preferred Text” edition and a badass audiobook.
Shadow had done three years in prison…
Being such a massive Neil Gaiman fan, it is quite appalling that I had never read American Gods until this year. I have, of course, seen the book year after year on the shelves, but somehow always ended up choosing something else, sometimes something else by Neil Gaiman. Finally I bought the book just last fall, in anticipation for the Great New Book Prohibition of 2012.
It struck me quite early on that what I thought this book was about was really just the barest form of the premise. Every detail was a surprise to me, and every plot curve a revelation. Having a man like Shadow as the hero/anti-hero made it even better. After nearly 600 pages, the man is still an enigma, even though I followed him through every tragedy and epiphany. Wednesday, too, was fascinating – the secondmost prominent character and yet I never got very close to him either.
The pantheon of other characters added such mystery, wisdom, and humour. Enough to make them almost, well, human. Feats of their godlike powers are rare, nowhere near as important as their fragility and vulnerability. Hell, it turns out even gods have to resort to bank robbery. I must say that Czernobog and the Zorya sisters were my favourite among them – perhaps because of my own Slavic-adjascent ancestry. But Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel – funeral directors extraordinaire – were compelling as well.
“So,” said Czernobog. “I get to knock out your brains…”
American Gods is also very American, which sounds strange, but it’s true. Perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t known that Neil Gaiman is English, but down to the plainest details, he described everything with precise American-ness. The food, the weather, the hotels, the towns. Neil Gaiman does take a moment to thank the people who plucked the English-isms from his drafts, but still I give great credit to the writer himself. Details like the food and weather, blase as they can be, are also the things that can make readers go “no, that’s not how it is at all” and make the whole house of cards fall down.
The only parallel I think I could draw alongside American Gods would be the TV series Supernatural, which shares the roadtrip-through-seemingly-idyllic-middle-America-but-look-out-there’s-a-zombie idea, but does not share the age-old histories and faiths, which quite appealed to me in the “Coming to America” shorts inserted throughout the novel.
No, American Gods stands quite on its own, part fantasy, part horror, part mystery, all balanced under Gaiman’s masterful hand and spectacular, sublime imagination.