American Godsby Neil Gaiman Published 01 Jul 2001
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The storm was coming….Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.
On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose accepts.
But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter -- all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.
Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.
All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought -- and the prize is the very soul of America.
As unsettling as it is exhilarating, American Gods is a dark and kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an America at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. Magnificently told, this work of literary magic will haunt the reader far beyond the final page.
"American Gods" Reviews
In 2003, I walked away from my childhood religion – a high control (some would say abusive) group with a tiny little worldview and a severe superiority complex.
This was my reality:
I believed with all my being that the things depicted above were real, and were just over the event horizon.
Leaving meant losing almost every friend I had ever made since childhood, it created a rift with my still devout family, and quite possibly saved my life.
Is it any wonder that fiction – alternate realities, fantasy, and mental escape – helped me make that decision, helped me move on, and helped deprogram my cult-think? One fiction supplanted the other, only this time I already knew I was working with stories.
Some of this fiction I had read many times, not understanding why the stories resonated so strongly within me, just knowing that I was compelled to return to those worlds, over and over. Others were stories I read during the time surrounding my breakaway, and shortly thereafter.*
American Gods made me observe and think differently. It gave me a new context for the mythologies I had accepted for most of my life. It was bigger than the story of Shadow, or the girl Sam, or Czernabog. For me, it was about how we allow our Old Gods to define our present worldview, and how we allow our New Gods to steal our awareness. Our mythologies set the boundaries of our culture, and paradoxically, as our culture changes, our gods sacrifice their immortality.
"Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you--even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition."
The part of the story that affected me the most profoundly was the story of Hinzelmann and Lakeside. The mixing of good and evil, the blurring of lines, townspeople looking the other way – to such a degree that it never occurs to them to see what is happening right under their noses. Dead men's bones. Deaths of legends. It affected me to my core. During the time I was reading American Gods, it was this which rocked me – I was doing the same thing – choosing and keeping and killing my own Gods, my own mythologies.
It was tremendously painful, made a little easier by having the opportunity to process it within the bounds of somebody else's story.
*The rest of the list:
Crisis of Conscience
Under the Banner of Heaven
This is a tough review for me to write. I'm not exactly sure what it is about this book that I don't like. I'm not sure there even IS something I don't like. Since I don't want to just leave you all with the ever popular "I'm just not that into it", I will try to explain.
This book has all the elements of a book I would enjoy. The creepiness factor is up there, the writing is brilliant, the main character is a big lug I couldn't help but love. Also, I have always been fascinated by mythology, so that's a plus.
Shadow is our main character and he just got out of jail after doing his time of three years. Right before he is supposed to be released he is let out early, because his wife was killed, in apparently scandalous circumstances. The first 50ish pages were about the extent of where the book was interesting to me. Shadow meets Wednesday, and then the story turns into a bunch of mini stories and flashbacks, and I didn't enjoy most of them. Some were okay, but the majority just felt like annoying disruptions, and I felt myself thinking this is yet another longer book that could benefit from losing about 100 or so pages from the dragging middle. Shadow is paid by Wednesday to be an errand boy while he travels America trying to rally his troops in preparation for a war between The old Gods, and the new Gods (media and money) I guess it's my own fault. I couldn't really bring myself to care about this war between the new and old Gods, because the Gods of Media and Money? Not my Gods...
Books that are hyped up as much as this one leave me in a place where I tend to get disappointed, because it's so hard to live up to those expectations. Of course that's not the books fault, but I was just expecting to like this book much more than I did. I never felt engaged while reading this book, and that's the reason I couldn't rate this above three stars. I could appreciate the great writing and originality, however, so I couldn't give it below three stars.
Three stars it is folks, but as most of you know this book is loved by (almost) all, so of course I encourage everyone who is interested in this book already to read it, and form your own opinions. This book didn't do it for me, but I am definitely going to try some of Gaiman's other books and see if I have a better experience.
"Read Gaiman!" they say. "I can't believe you've never read Gaiman! You have GOT TO read Gaiman!" "Gaiman is SUCH an important part of popular culture and one of the BEST contemporary writers! You HAVE TO READ GAIMAN!"
Well, I've read Gaiman now.
Let me quote:
"American Gods is Neil Gaiman's best and most ambitious novel yet, a scary, strange, and hallucinogenic road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American spirit."
I agree with everything but the beginning and the end. It certainly was scary, strange and hallucinogenic.
None of it in a good way.
I like nothing about this book. Not liking it isn't very difficult, because I have honestly no idea what was going on. Not that I didn't get the actual story, it wasn't that hard, since Mr. Gaiman sure isn't the most demanding writer (that isn't meant as a criticism, it can be a good thing). But why the things that were going on, were going on, completely eluded me. And while I kept on reading and wondering, 'huh? why? What now?', in the end, it all came up to "Why should I care?"
This isn't my kind of book, mainly due to the subject and the characters. That's why I don't think anything Gaiman wrote would be my kind of book. It certainly isn't a book, or an author, you HAVE to read.
I guess this, like that strange car race video game and Star Trek, will be parts of popular culture that will have to live without me.
I find myself shocked at the awards this book has won and the praise heaped upon it. How on Gods’ Earth could a book about Gods walking on the Earth among mortals be so pedestrian? Somehow Gaiman managed to turn a potentially cool premise into something boring. For those who love this book—and I know it is many—please forgive the sarcasm to follow as I blaspheme against the beloved Gaiman. But Gods help me, the more I read, the more I hated American Gods.
First off, while the premise sounds interesting the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. The basic idea: the more worshippers a God has, the more powerful they are. The plot: there is a building power struggle between the old Gods (Norse, Native American, pagan, etc.) and the new Gods (Technology, Television, Money, etc.). Okay, I’ve heard the ratio-of-worshippers-to-power idea before so that’s not so original. But it’s not a deal breaker. It has potential. Here’s the unique twist in American Gods that caused my political antenna to start twitching—every God (like say Odin) has an “avatar” of him or herself in each country. Or is it each continent? Gaiman’s not quite clear about that. Would there be an Odin in Belgium and Luxembourg? Or does all of Europe get one Odin who is different from the American Odin? I find it politically disagreeable to suggest that every country (or even continent) has different God-avatars. To make this the premise turns intangible political entities (nations) into strictly bordered spiritual containers. It’s parochial thinking. I disagree with this premise radically because I reject that people of a given “nation” are somehow bonded spiritually. Countries are artificial. Like Afghanistan. Like how we stole the native people’s land to form America. I ascribe to the perspective that while people should always be fighting for political freedom and better political systems locally and nationally, we are truly citizens of the world together. The premise of American Gods manages to privilege the people in one country as somehow being united in their spiritual energy, feeding the Gods only within that country. As a metaphor (Gaiman repeatedly feels the need to state that this premise is a metaphor) it fails. There should be no metaphorical boundary between my spirit and my sister’s and brother’s spirits in Nicaragua, even if we have different local needs. Further, I could go on about how old Gods (religious deities) are in cahoots with modern Gods like wealth and technology. Just look at the fact that all the evangelists support the party of the 1%.
Political oversensitivity on my part aside, the rant continues.
The main character, Shadow, was about the dullest hero I’ve ever read. For Gods’ sake how many times do other characters have to refer to how “big” he is? Is he a big man? He sure is big. Wow, you’re big. Apparently he’s big. Is he big? Oh boy is he a big man. Yep, he’s big. He was big and boring and one-dimensional. So pure of heart that it grated on me. I found the majority of his dialogue to be trite and conventional. He struck me throughout as a pawn of the author (and yes he was a pawn of the Gods, too) more than a real being. His words were missing that spark of believability to bring the character to life. I didn’t even believe his repeated sleight-of-hand behavior. It felt like a character trait on a chart that Gaiman could pull out every couple of chapters. And when it came to the other God characters? I just wasn’t feelin’ it. They seemed phony as all get-out. I did not find his representation of them credible. I think my reaction to their characterizations were primarily due to a reaction to mediocre dialogue. The dialogue wasn’t awful, but I found it to be consistently off—slightly awkward, slightly unnatural, subtly stilted.
Most of the story was told in very close third person from Shadow’s point-of-view. But every once in a while, Gaiman would throw in a chapter from another character’s point-of-view. These chapters read in some ways like short stories inserted into the novel to expurgate some backstory, elucidate the God/worshipper premise in more detail, or delve into a side character. I find such techniques utterly amateurish. One or two “interludes” in a book might be acceptable but to have an entire story driving in a close third person POV and then jump into another character because you can’t “explain something” from the primary POV is cheap. It’s an easy out. I react badly when authors feel the need to “explain things” to begin with. And to interrupt the flow of the structure you’ve created to do so pisses me off. It made me feel as though Gaiman were talking down to me as the reader, like I was a little kid who didn’t get it. Or like his storytelling just wasn’t good enough to tell the story without jumping out of it to explain it. Understanding should come organically. Or else the POV jumping should happen more frequently, such as, every chapter. It’s all about rhythm of storytelling.
Swathes of American Gods were just plain boring. About 2/3 of the way through I started skipping whole paragraphs, then pages to get to plot events. All the stuff between the plot events was trying my patience. Shadow spends a great deal of time stuck in a small town in northern Wisconsin, meeting all these good-hearted locals and exploring bits of small-town life. I felt like I was stuck in a small town in northern Wisconsin during the winter the whole time. I’m like—this is not freaking Housekeeping and Gaiman sure ain’t Marilynne Robinson. He does not have the writing chops to pull off an intimate look at real small-town life.
Modest spoiler: [spoilers removed]
Oh yeah, and if you tell me over and over again that [spoilers removed] a big, big, big [spoilers removed] is coming, then you better give me a big fucking [spoilers removed]. Guess what? What do you think?
Big spoiler here: [spoilers removed]
By the end, I was ready to shoot American Gods but I had to wade through an epilogue and a postscript. It was like a pimple on top of a wart. But I guess I’m not surprised that he wanted to tie up loose ends after the climax because he couldn’t figure out how to do it during the story itself. Bah.
I viscerally disliked this book. I think it’s because as a whole it felt emotionally manipulative. Such a charge could have been avoided with living, breathing characters. But despite the transparent planning and plotting, none of it rang true. Even Fantasy characters need to feel real. These didn’t.
In this unique love letter to the United States, Gaiman manages to celebrate its underground spiritual traditions, glory in the magnificence of its landmarks, landscapes, and bizarre tourist traps, and--most important--both mourn and venerate its pagan (often immigrant) gods in decline, battered and diminished though they may be by the shallowness and speed of our technological world. The gods are indeed the best part of this very good book: degenerate and threadbare, yet still gods, capable of inspiring both allegiance and terror.
Gaiman loves not only fantasy, but also mystery and horror, and here he has constructed a book which fulfills the genre requirements of all. The plot is complicated and crammed with marvels: the beginning promises pleasures and horrors, the middle disturbs the balance, and the ending surprises and yet satisfies.
My first thought on this book:
This is a 2.5 to 3 star book max for me. I am pretty sure this will be my last Neil Gaiman book. I have tried two others (Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch and The Ocean at the End of the Lane) and one of those was okay (Omens) and one of them I couldn't stand (Ocean).
I realize that my feelings on Gaiman and his books are contrary to popular opinion, but they are just not my cup of tea. They are slow. They seem intentionally odd and artsy. By the end, I just don't care anymore. I think trying 3 of his books shows I have given him a good chance, but now it may be time to part ways.
American Gods has its interesting storylines (that is why I have rounded up to 3 stars) but overall, I didn't see the point. I expected some really interesting stuff to happen between all the Gods and mortals, but instead I got sometimes boring, sometimes unintelligible speeches, or really odd occurrences that come out of nowhere and make no sense. In general, I am not really sure why any of it happened other than Gaiman spewed forth some really weird stream of consciousness (This was the same way I felt about The Ocean at the End of the Lane).
So - if you love Gaiman, keep on reading! But, don't fault me for not caring for is style after several tries, it is just how I feel and I don't think it is going to get any better.