By: Neil Gaiman
Shadow is a calm and passive ex-con who gets released from prison three days early after receiving the news that his wife was killed in a car accident. Emotionally numb and distraught, Shadow gets on a plane to fly home and attend her funeral. Upon boarding his flight, he is chatted up by a strange, well-dressed man who goes by the name of Mr. Wednesday. The mysterious conman wishes to hire shadow as a bodyguard who will travel with him across America.
Reluctant to accept but having no other options, Shadow is thrust into a hidden world where Old Gods compete with New Gods for relevance and devotion. The gods need humans to exist and thrive, and they need to be remembered to have power. For the New Gods, the Old Gods have overstayed their welcome and a war is coming that will decide who rules the hearts and minds of millions of Americans across the United States.
This story is a clusterfuck with a destination. At times, it makes almost no sense, but it’s still great because somehow Neil Gaiman makes crazy shit sound plausible.
It appears that I’ve found another book where the ending is supposed to confuse you. American Gods gave me a sense of the world being bigger and far more complex than any of us care to imagine. We must all go along with the flow of the world because we are powerless to go against things we don’t understand. Except when we decide to finally impart change on the world…And if that doesn’t sound mildly like the ramblings of a poetic crack addict, then I have not accurately described this book.
The pacing may draw you in or it may drive you nuts. Frankly, it did both for me for the same reason. The narrative is more of a meandering jaunt to an eventual conclusion rather than a straight, coherent drive from beginning to end. Gaiman has you take a couple of breaks here and there before returning to the journey then circling back again. In this way, American Gods is the closest thing to a journey you can take without actually going anywhere because it feels like a trip rather than an escape you enjoy for a few hours before going back to living your normal life. There’s not a way to look at religion and mythology the same way after the experience of reading this book.
Aside from the ass-backwards journey, Shadow is a difficult character to connect with. He’s passive and gets used by other people easily. He breathes without really living, but I didn’t hate him. It’s just frustrating when he refuses to act for himself or tell his shitty dead wife to fuck off.
This book is not one story, but many weaved painstakingly and tenderly together into every facet of the narrative. It’s a story you can understand only not looking at it straight on but instead analyzing it with your peripheral vision. American Gods is a complicated metaphor scattered with symbolism. It’s mystical and surreal while containing harsh truths about American society. But above all, it’s a love letter to the United States and everything we Americans hold dear.
Overall rating: 5
My rating may surprise you because I basically described the book as being mildly incoherent, but I loved it none-the-less. Neil Gaiman is a master craftsman even when he’s trying to drive you a bit mad. This book is definitely worth re-reading if simply to see if I understand more of it the second time around. I’ll catch more knowing now how it ends.