Book Review: “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

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American Gods…the bear doesn’t have much to do with the book but it does sport an American flag

“I’m a has been. Who the fuck cares about me?”
Shadow said softly, “You’re a god.”
Wednesday looked at him sharply. He seemed to be about to say something, and then he slumped back in his seat, and looked down at the menu and said, “So?”
“It’s a good thing to be a god.” said Shadow.
“Is it?” asked Wednesday…

Neil Gaiman spins a far fetched tale of old gods and new gods, preparing for a battle in America. The old gods like Odin, Anubis and Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun, had been brought to America by various settlers over the eons. Our mythologies set the boundaries of our culture, and paradoxically, as our culture changes, our gods sacrifice their immortality. The new gods come out of new obsessions like the Internet, media, wealth and conspiracy theories. We no longer sacrifice animals or our fellow humans but we do sacrifice our time.

At the beginning of the story, the central character, Shadow is released early from prison because his wife, Laura, had been killed in a car crash. She maybe dead but she is still an important character as she appears from time to time in the narrative.

“Normally people who die stay in their graves,” said Shadow.
“Do they? Do they really puppy?…” (p70)

It is a tough book to review the book because the tale meanders so. One reviewer, David Monroe wrote, “Anybody who tells you that the book is about old and new gods, or about a man named Shadow, or about coin tricks, or about having one’s head smashed in for losing a game of checkers, is selling you a line, because those are just details, not the story itself.” There are many vivid images created in the story, this is the first book of Neil Gaiman’s that I have read and I am impressed by his prose. An old car is put out on the frozen lake of Lakeside, and the inhabitants put bets on when they think it will fall through the ice. Shadow bets on a morning in late March.

Shadow soon meets up with Wednesday, who it would seem is an incarnation of Odin, the Norse god (not the young girl in the Addams Family), brought over in pre-Columbian times by Viking explorers. Shadow is employed by Wednesday as a gopher.
This is a fantasy tale that bleeds into many genres, there is a roadtrip feel, exploring the mid west states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. There are elements of horror, too and mystery.
The book could have had some stronger female characters, the only female characters of great interest are Laura, the dead wife, “Sam” Black Crow,a hitch-hiker Shadow picks up and Easter.

There are a number of interludes describing how some of the settlers arrived with their various gods from their old lands. In the eighteenth century an Irish convict woman brings her belief in the little folk, leaving out a saucer of milk as is her tradition. African slaves bring their gods. The first Americans who came across the icy Bering Strait from Siberia brought their gods.
Our mythologies set the boundaries of our culture, and paradoxically, as our culture changes, our gods’ influence on us wanes. They become in Wednesday’s words “has-beens”.

On a personal note; this is the first novel, I have read which mentions Shy Bladder Syndrome (on p178 and then again on p370), this is something I embarrassingly suffer from and would like to explore in a future blog post. I also found myself searching YouTube videos for coin tricks, as Shadow is often palming coins or practising tricks throughout the narrative.
This may not be a five star review but I definitely want to read more Neil Gaiman books after having read this.

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