Book Review – “American Gods”

This review is courtesy Timeshredder.

General Information

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Original Publication Date: 2001
ISBN: 0-380-97365-0
Cover Price: $26.00 U.S.
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A recently-released con finds himself involved in a conflict between the old mythological gods, created by human belief, and the newer gods, the reified incarnations of the Internet, television, et cetera.

High Points:

The characterizations generally work very well. The encounters between Shadow (the protagonist) and his dead wife are grim, touching, and funny. If someone maintained a relationship with his still-mobile, still-sentient dead wife, it might unfold along the general lines depicted here.

As the book progresses, Gaiman relates the stories of the gods and the people who brought them to America. We hear about the Irishwoman who brought faeries to America, the spirits who came with a slave ship, or we read about an encounter between an Arabic New Yorker and a jinn cabbie. While only tangentially related to the main plot, these pieces give the novel its atmosphere and ground it in an alternate reality that Gaiman renders very believably.

Low Points:

The often-breathtaking quality of the short pieces that relate how the gods got to America, however, overshadows the rest of the book. Enjoyable as American Gods is, it might have worked better as a collection of short stories. (The story of Lakeside, a town where Shadow settles for a time, also could stand alone, as a Lovecraft-influenced mystery).

I laughed out loud when I read the classifications the book received: 1. National characteristics, American– Fiction. 2. Spiritual warfare– Fiction. 3. Ex-prisoners– Fiction. 4. Bodyguards– Fiction. 5. Widowers– Fiction.

I can’t imagine what someone seeking “widower fiction” would make of this.

The Scores

Originality: 4 out of 6. The “Gods Among Us” premise is as old as written literature (ok, older), and the “belief becomes reality” riff is an embarrasing staple of the New Age movement. American Gods, however, represents the best and most original handling of these concepts in a very long time.

Imagery: 6 out of 6. Gaiman vividly describes the people and places.

Story: 5 out of 6. The plot meanders but, in the end, the various elements hold together, and the novel features some well, novel twists. A few were even unexpected.

Characterization: 5 out of 6. Believable, even when the characters are phantastic and mythic.

Emotional Response: 6 out of 6. The response varies, but at its best, this book is extraordinary. The passage on the slave ship will likely stay with you forever, whether you want it to or not.

Editing: 5 out of 6. The writing is tight and well-edited. As for plotting…. American Gods could be a couple of different books, and possibly would have been, had Gaiman not been under pressure to produce his next novel.

Overall: 6 out of 6

In total, American Gods receives 37 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

American Gods, a brilliant, bursting-at-the-bindings novel follows an ex-con named Shadow, the Teutonic god Odin (reduced to the status of travelling grifter), and Shadow’s dead wife on a road trip through America’s decaying, sacred places: the classic roadside attractions. Neil Gaiman weaves ancient gods into the fabric of everyday life, creating a weird tapestry of genres. It deserves its Nebula award, but I believe Gaiman’s best work remains as yet unwritten.

2 replies on “Book Review – “American Gods””

  1. disclaimer: I’m a Gaiman addict
    just to start off with, I should point out that I’ve read everything Gaiman’s written that I can find. including graphic novels, which puts quite a strain on the budget….
    anyway, I read this before I read Sandman (All of them) and as I was reading the Sandman GNs, I kept thinking “ah. this is where he did most of his research”. I found the plot absolutely fascinating, even though it wandered. oddly, I felt that that was a strength of the book – it went where it needed to go, rather than where Gaiman forced it to go. Be careful when you pick this book up – you might also want to pick up a book on sleight of hand coin tricks. a) because that’s the best way to understand a lot of what Shadow does in his spare time, b) because you’ll likely become fascinated with them.

  2. the other low point?
    I suppose this is what they call foreshadowing these days…

    On about page three or so, when Shadow meets Low-Key, that kinda gives away, um, most of the book.

    Maybe it’s just me, though the “shocking revelation” as to who that Low Key guy really is failed completely to be shocking in any way.

    (I’m trying to be vague, in case it’s not as obvious as I thought it was, and to avoid spoiling the book.)

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