22 September 2014

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods had been on my list for quite some time, and even when I put a hold on it at the library, it STILL took a couple months for my turn to come up.

I’ve always found Neil Gaiman’s works fascinating and thought-provoking, even if they’re well outside my usual reading. It’s not that I don’t like them - I do - but they aren’t as rewarding to me at the level of pure escape and enjoyment.

But from a literary perspective, there are few things more rewarding. Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft, and it shows.

American Gods operates on the premise that human beliefs form gods and give them their power, and that the gods brought to America by its settlers - Odin and Thoth and Czernobog and all the rest - were gradually being supplanted by America’s ‘new’ gods of media and celebrity and drugs. Even belief in a story could birth a god, like Davy Crockett - or belief in a conspiracy, like the “men in black” (not to be confused with the movie of the same name, though they did dress similarly).

The story follows Shadow, a recently-released prisoner, as he gets shanghaied into helping Wednesday (those who know the origin of the day’s name will not have a big surprise here who it is) gather the old gods to fight. It’s in large part a road novel, traveling all over the United States, visiting various parts where Gaiman found something particularly inspiring to write about: the House on the Rock, for example, and its World’s Largest Carousel.

Interspersed with the narrative (or sometimes intertwined) are stories from America’s past, as settlers brought their gods with them.

American Gods got pretty trippy at times. There were chapters where I had no clue what was going on. There were chapters where I was convinced nothing was going on, until it turned out all these little daily occurrences which seemed inconsequential were in fact essential to the plot.

There were times when American Gods rambled, and that’s where it lost me a little. I think Gaiman has a different relationship to American than I do: he is able to appreciate its vastness and its splendor more, since he is from England. But I grew up with it, and I have to be reminded that there are a lot of people who can drive from one end of their country to the other in a single day. America is big and vast and still mythical.

Did I like American Gods? Yes, very much so. And I drew a great deal of inspiration from it. And I’d recommend it to anyone who asked. But I would warn that person that they’re in for quite a ride.