A storm is coming . . .
What to say about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? In some ways it is part Percy Jackson, part On the Road, part Harry Potter, and part de Tocqueville. Gaiman’s epic modern fairy tale came out in 2001 and promptly won the Hugo, the Nebula, the Bram Stoker, and the Locus awards. It has sold umpteen millions of copies, and is now a series on Starz.
So, what’s it about? It centers around a man called Shadow, who starts out in prison. On the eve of his release, he learns his best friend and wife just died in a car wreck. He’s approached by an older gentleman named Wednesday (and if you know your Norse mythology, you can quickly guess who Wednesday is) who offers him a job as his general assistant. Reluctantly, our hero takes the job.
Wednesday is on a cross-country quest to recruit the old gods in a coming battle against the new gods. Who, or what, are gods? In this universe, gods are figments of imagination people dreamed up and took on shape. They were brought to America with immigrants who remembered them. However, as time goes on they are mostly forgotten, and they fade into old age and even death. The new gods are things American pay attention to and “worship” such as television, interstates, air travel, and so forth. They are given short shrift compared to the old ones. But, Gaiman takes us on an interesting cross-section of pantheism, and you’ll want to keep Wikipedia handy to look up all the obscure deities and paranormal creatures who populate the book as characters.
The story itself is a hot mess with a wildly convoluted plot that splays all over the place. Extra portions that were excised in the original book are resurrected here in the anniversary edition as a sort of “director’s cut.” Minor characters who may or may not be important to the overall story arc may get a brief introduction early on, then 20,000 words later you learn who they are and find out if they’re important or not.
The book is extremely profane, with copious F-bombs. It seems highly ironic that the gods take God’s name in vain early and often. Graphic sex scenes are detailed, mostly between deities and humans, and often to the detriment or demise of the humans.
Toward the end you get some reveals and plot twists, and Gaiman finally wraps things up in a satisfying conclusion and epilogue. He states up front that fans of his other works either love the story or hate it, there seems to be little in between. I found myself in a nether region between the two extremes. But it did keep me turning the virtual pages.
In the afterword, Gaiman confesses to being sensitive to the issue he wrote a “great American novel” when he is not, in fact, American. However, this is not really an issue as far as I’m concerned. He’s married to an American, he’s lived in America, and this is a work of pure fantasy, after all. Although, he traveled around a bit and used real life roadside attractions and tourist destination for “holy sites” in the book.
So take a look at the 10th Anniversary Edition, if you haven’t already. It’s one of those major science fiction / fantasy books that is hard to miss.
Categories: Science Fiction / Fantasy