My Copy: 9780062080233 (image from goodreads.com)
I’ve never read Neil Gaiman before, and I sure picked a doorstop as my first of the several on my shelves. But I’m keeping this one for sure. I know I liked it, but I’m not terribly sure why.
I just know I’m willing to go along for the ride again. Like Shadow, the main character, I just have to learn what’s going on and who’s going to be a part of it.
American Gods revolves around Shadow, who got out of prison early only to realize his wife died with his friend and her current lover, days before they were supposed to welcome him home. Hurt and disillusioned, he meets Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job as his bodyguard, driver, and general companion on his travels across the country to meet other people. Shadow ends up accepting, though he doesn’t seem sure why, and gets a lot more than he bargained for.
Usually this is the setup in a film for cliched chase scenes and explosions, but it’s more a journey of awakening. Wednesday is a god that came to America years before, like thousands of others did (it doesn’t take long before you figure out he’s Odin, to be more precise). But he has a sense of urgency as they go along, looking for other gods–and trying to avoid others. There’s a war going to happen between the old gods and the new gods of America, and Mr. Wednesday is desperate to gather the old gods together to ensure their survival and get them on his side.
This book is about 25 years old, but many of the new gods won’t be that hard to figure out. There’s Media, technology (or Tech Kid, as he’s sometimes called), and several others whose names escape me at the moment. It’s an interesting setup, and leaves a ton of questions.
Some readers have complained that this book meanders too much. It feels like a road trip, a road trip where some people are met and things observed, but then you move on. It feels like you’re on the road trip with them, you get sucked into what’s happening (a much better road trip story than On The Road, at least to me). Sometimes the destinations aren’t all that important, and some are very important, only for you to figure it out later. I feel for Shadow in this book because you’re right there with him, trying to understand what is going on and why he’s in the middle of all this.
Is Shadow a god and doesn’t even know it? If he’s not, what’s he doing there and why does some strange agency seem to be out to get him? When he’s visited by his dead wife a few times, you really wonder what’s going on… and how important dreams are to the grand scheme of things. Somehow his existence has shaken things up in this war between the old and the new.
American Gods is a tricky book, full of characters you wish you knew more about (especially the New gods). I’m a bit confused how the “god” thing is supposed to work. Were they born human and became gods? Did they manifest and just have the outward appearance of humans? I’m not sure, and maybe I nodded off or accidentally glazed over parts that would’ve explained it better (was sick some of the time and spent whole days away from it because of work, so I’m sure that happened).
But the mysteries within are satisfying for the most part, some are solved, others keep you guessing. I kept wanting to know more; there are a few side adventures Shadow ends up embroiled in, one in some place called Lakeside, and the recurring one with his dead wife.
I’m definitely gonna take this road trip again. The mystery will beckon again. And now I’ll try and watch the Starz series (what little I’ve recorded) to see if there’s some clarification to be found.