I’m not quite sure if I love this book or if I just got caught up at the last minute. There were so many times that I put it down to read something else. There were times when I felt I was suffering through it to get to the real point. Then, there were times that I thought, “Oh my God! This is awesome prose.” Or, “I really needed that to happen to keep me engaged in the story!”
Every book is a crap shoot. You never know if it’s going to be the book that you cherish or the book that you write scathing reviews (even if only in your head) of for the rest of your existence. American Gods is the perfect representation of the “crap shoot” concept.
It’s opening chapters grab you with odd details about Shadow’s prison life and how he sees it as a simple waiting game that will allow him to go on with his real life. Then, he is released and the actual story begins and that’s when things get murky.
Neil Gaiman is nothing short of amazing as a writer. His characters are always well thought out and contain just enough mystique to keep a reader interested. His plots are generally well thought out. It’s the pacing that can get a little awkward.
On it’s face, American Gods is really no more than a road trip across the US. There are stops at roadside attractions and prolonged stays in small towns. The difference between this road trip and any other is that Shadow is being accompanied by an ancient god – a god that just happens to also be his employer.
In American Gods, Gaiman explores the ancient sprits that were brought to the United States in the form of immigrant belief.
That last sentence may sound a little pretentious, but it is truly the best description I can provide for the plot of this book.
Shadow, has been released from prison a few days earlier than expected. His early release is due to the death of his wife, Laura, in a car accident. The accident also claimed the life of Shadow’s best friend, Robbie. Shadow had planned to simply go back to his wife and accept the job offer of his friend upon his release. Instead, he attends Laura’s funeral and learns that the car accident happened because Laura was performing oral sex on Robbie while Robbie was driving her home.
Having been approached by Wednesday, who is actually the ancient god Odin, with a job offer prior to his release, Shadow decides to take the offer as he has nothing else to do now that he is free from prison.
He and Wednesday embark on a trip across the country. Their purpose is to recruit the ancient gods in a war against the new gods. Shadow’s only real ally throughout the journey is his dead wife, Laura. Laura has been brought back, not as a spirit, but as an animated corpse. Before you start thinking zombie, realize that Laura is aware of her past, her death, and her present situation. But, she is most aware of the eminent danger that is constantly near Shadow. Her purpose is twofold. She wants to be alive again and challenges Shadow to fulfill that request. But, she also wants to protect Shadow from both the dangers that surround him and the truth of who he is.
Filled with symbolism, folk lore, and ancient myth, American Gods is a truly solid work that does keep the reader wanting more once it reaches it’s ending. As a matter of fact, I am continually grateful to my coworker for loaning me her copy. While I did put it down and pick it up again as I tried to finish it, I am glad that I did actually finish it. The times I put it down made me realize that there was so much more happening than I was ready to ingest. The times I picked it up again made me realize that I truly enjoyed what I was reading. The time since I finished reading has been an exercise in understanding all of the things we let go of as we move forward.
I’m not sure if that explanation really counts as a book review. I am sure that I will recommend this book, even if it’s solely for the chance to discuss it.
The only thing I am sure of is that this book gets all of the cranial pistons firing. And, isn’t that the point of reading and discussing books?
Main image via Araiwein
Smaller image via Wikipedia