As a longtime Gaiman fan, I’ve been working my way through his books for awhile now. I’ve read his non-fiction and his children’s stories, his picture books and his comics. When I picked up American Gods, having already watched the first season of the show, I was ready for what I consider one of the more well known of his titles. It was time for me to get to know Shadow personally and see the road he’d traveled and the people, gods and otherwise alike, he’d met along the way.
Narrated by a Full Cast including Neil Gaiman, Dennis Boutiskaris,
Daniel Oreskes, Ron McLarty, & Sarah Jones
Published: 21 June 2011 (originally published July 2001)
Publisher: Harper Audio
Category: Fantasy (Urban)/Fiction/Mythology
First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic, an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now, discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this 10th anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author’s preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.
A storm is coming….
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life. But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined. It is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own.
Along the way, Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life, a storm is brewing – an epic war for the very soul of America – and that he is standing squarely in its path.
Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose”
Rating: 3 Stars
Content warnings for adult content including sexual content, graphic imagery including an “un-birthing”, and extreme violence
The concept of American Gods is intensely attractive. Road trip stories in and of themselves have something fascinating. New sights, new people, new mysteries to be discovered all over the countrysides. Add to that the combined pantheons of a dozen different cultures and you have a recipe for something truly special.
It was with that premise in mind, with the idea of our main character Shadow Moon setting off on that adventure, that I picked up the book. To be fair, there is a road trip and there are a lot of different gods and supernatural creatures from various pantheons, some easier to identify than others. As for calling it an adventure…while it might have had elements of the definition, I’m not sure it’s an accurate descriptor.
Shadow’s encounters were certainly unusual. The events that he underwent, such as a vigil he holds and learning to “go back stage”, these are just a couple of the unusual and risky things that he does while his road trip with Mr. Wednesday, an older man he meets on an airplane while on his way home for his wife, Laura Moon’s, funeral.
Exciting, though? That might be pushing it a bit far. This was a slow, meandering book that didn’t really have much spark to it. It was like drinking a cup of mild tea as opposed to one that had some spice to it. Perfectly serviceable, you might even like it, but the kick you get from the spice really heats things up and makes your smile just that much wider. This being the edition of the book that added back in 12,000 words, I think you really feel all of those words.
Interspersed with Shadow’s journey across the country are chapters called Coming to America, told from various perspectives that are, naturally, about different people and/or beings coming to America. Those were my favorite parts of the book even though many of them did not end up having much impact on the story overall. There was one about an Irishwoman and how her people brought some of their beliefs to the new world, another about a pair of twins sold into slavery and what their life was like in regards to the fight for independence in Haiti. My favorite was the story of an immigrant that met a djinn in a taxi; I wish there had been more about that pair because it felt incredibly rich and deep with more to it than what we were left with.
There were elements of the story, aside from the Coming to America tales, that I did appreciate, such as Wednesday’s cons that he described with such passion. As wily a character as he was, as dastardly and, indeed, disgusting at times, a good con is fun to read about because the revelation is a joyous thing. The twist at the end of this book, too, was a joyous thing because it was one I did not see coming. The ending of the whole thing, though, I thought terribly anti-climactic. There was all this buildup between the Old Gods and the New Gods, such a clash as never seen before. What resulted, though, was such a disappointment that I found myself pausing and literally saying “that’s it?”.
Shadow was kind of a “that’s it” character too. He was likable for sure, nice enough in many respects, but he didn’t have many outstanding qualities that would make him stick in my head. He wasn’t a strong personality in the book, always willing to let other people in the story make decisions or acting on the wishes of the people he’d sworn his allegiance to even after they were dead and gone without being able to act on his own. It seemed like he was a puppet rather than an individual with a mind of his own, which I suppose made it easy for the reader to slip into his skin for awhile, but made him frustrating to read about if you aren’t the kind of reader that wants to slip in like that.
The Full Cast that performed the book did a fabulous job of picking up their roles and running with them. Oddly enough, this recording was made years before the television show was released or even cast, yet the actor that portrayed Mr. Wednesday in the book sounds a lot like Ian McShane, the actor who portrays him in the show. That made it fun to hear the Mr. Wednesday lines. I don’t think there was a single character that I thought sounded miscast or out of place.
My summation is that American Gods is a decent book with an interesting look at what happens as faiths evolve, what we retain as the world changes around us, and what remains in the new world, wherever that is. If I were to read it again, I might look for the original, edited version rather than the +12,000 word edition.
All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.