I have had a change of heart when it comes to reviewing books. I had been minimizing the impact my personal enjoyment had on the rating but with American Gods I was struck with a dilemma. There are several elements that I could use to reduce the rating but it would not properly reflect the enormous enjoyment I took from the reading (or in this case, listening) experience. This currently stands as one of the most interesting and engaging fantasy novels I have read. For me, it pushed all the right buttons and kept me engaged from start to finish.
We find our protagonist, Shadow, keeping his head down and surviving the last few weeks of a prison sentence. He is eagerly awaiting his return to wife, his job and his old life. Several days before his release, he is called to the warden’s office with news that his wife has been killed in a car accident. As result, he is being released early so he can attend her funeral. In pain but unable to express it, Shadow begins his journey home. It is on the trip that he meets Wednesday, a mysterious man who follows Shadow until he convinces him to take a job in his employ. Tuis begins an epic trip across the America, its roadside attractions, its back roads, diners and fleabag motels. It is on this trip that Shadow learns that all the different people who have made up America have brought with them their gods and these gods continue to live in America even if they are not thriving. As the old gods hang on for survival, new gods are being created. Gods of greed, money, internet, television and drugs, etc. There is only so much love and adoration to go around and a clash between the old and the new seems inevitable. As the plans of the gods unfold, Shadow finds himself on a trip of self discovery and learning who he really is.
An Amazing Cast of Characters
This novel may win my praise as the novel containing the largest cast of colorful characters. We are introduced to dozens of nuanced and entertaining characters, some human, some half human and some god. If you are like me and enjoy strong character development, you will find this to be entertaining.
For some, the story will be a slow burn. The plot unfolds very slowly and it takes over half the book to work out the major plot points. If you don’t mind a scenic drive, you will enjoy some very entertaining sights along the way. As an added bonus, there are several short stories interspersed in between chapters. Each story tells a tale of how a god made the trip to America through the beliefs and practices of some immigrant, invader or slave. This simply adds more colour to this character rich story.
While colorful, the characters are not always explained. At times, you have to work out who the god or god like person/being is. For example, there is a section where there is some American Folk lore. It turns out Johnny Appleseed is still kicking as a result of his myth and an ongoing belief in him. That said, he was never properly introduced and you had to deduce who he was (that is of course if you didn’t know his real name was John Chapman). While the revolving door of characters and beings of myth borders on overwhelming at times, it added a scope to the story that gave it an epic feeling.
An Entertaining Picture of America
I am not American and as such, I will not pretend to understand it. From the outside, America is a country of contradictions, passion mixed with a sense that they should succeed because it is in their blood. Neil Gaiman, a transplanted Brit, is quite open about the fact that this book is his own view of America while ultimately making the point that the county is so big and diverse that it as if the county itself actively attempts to obscure categorization and explanation. The picture that Gaiman paints is not necessarily a positive and not necessarily a picture that is exclusive to America. The novel speaks of short-sighted, fickle and distracted people that abandon their belief when it no longer suits them and a place where their gods are left to try and become everything to everyone in an attempt to survive. In case you are worried that this is a novel where a Brit is out to trash the USA, do not despair. Through our everyman protagonist, Gaiman also paints a picture of Americans as a resilient, loyal and resourceful people. While it is one part scathing it is another part uplifting and an ode to America. This an interesting dichotomy that plays throughout the novel.
This is amongst the best novels I have read in recent years. It is considered by some as destined to be a modern classic and I share the sentiment. The novel is rich and deep. While I do not always agree with the authors ideas, I enjoy the execution. If you don’t mind a slow moving plot and love vibrant characters, this is a must read.
This is one of the best audiobook productions I have had the pleasure of hearing. It is a full cast production and most every character is expertly done. At times, I thought that the mixing could have been better, especially in the changes between the male and female voice but the voice acting was incredible. Shadow and Wednesday were especially great. I highly recommend the 10th anniversary edition.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 4
I thought the sexual content was higher than was really needed. There were multiple sexual experience for Shadow. On one hand, it may not be surprising as gods are often depicted as taking what they want whenever they want it. While none of the scene were especially graphic, sexual related discussion and other such content was regular.
Language – 4.5
This was the one area of the book I found most disappointing. The author used a generous helping of the f-word throughout the story. It generally came off as unnecessary and at time gratuitous. I see excessive swearing as weakness in writing as the author attempts to convey emotion through excessive adult language. Language is pervasive.
Violence – 2.5
There is violence in the story. The anticipation of violence plays a central role and the a subplot involves a murder mystery. There is one scene where a character is dying that is moderately graphic and the murder of another but overall, it is not pervasive.