Review: “American Gods,” Neil Gaiman

Rating:  4/5

American Gods is the third (second and a half?) book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, after Stardust and Good Omens, which was co-authored by Terry Pratchett. I picked it up only because it was by Gaiman – I knew very little about it, and the description on the back of the mass-market paperback edition (sidenote: yuck!) didn’t even fully summarize the first chapter. Actually, I snagged this book from my in-laws’ bookshelf when I was at their house with nothing to read.  I didn’t have low expectations so much as I just had very little idea what to expect at all.

American Gods tells the story of Shadow, an ex-con who is released from prison a few days early following his wife’s sudden death and finds himself with nowhere to go.  He “coincidentally” meets a stranger who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he gets pulled into a mythic war between gods brought by immigrants to America from their own lands, and modern American gods of technology and convenience.

I am a huge fan of Gaiman’s voice, and this book did not disappoint.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, his voice is somewhat similar to Douglas Adams.  If you’re unfamiliar with Douglas Adams, please read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at your earliest convenience (or better yet, if you can find the read-by-the-author audiobook, take a road trip). Gaiman’s voice is sardonic, but thorough and perceptive.  He leads the reader to truths without stating them outright, and as a reader, it is as unlikely that you’ll feel as though you’re being bludgeoned over the head with a theme as it is that you’ll miss one.

American Gods was the first book that I’ve read in this challenge with a plot that I honestly could not predict.  For the sake of clarity, if I find I can make predictions that I’m confident about, I still consider them predictions even if they’re wrong. Also, that is a tricky assertion since I saw the film version of The Silver Linings Playbook before I read the book, but I could more-or-less predict the film, and my one prediction that was utterly wrong in the film was correct in the book, so… anyway.

Parts of American Gods were clunky, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them slow; there was always an element of intrigue present that made me want to keep reading, even if I wished that the narration would get a move on. The characters were fabulous to a one, and they were perfect embodiments of well-established mythos without being stereotypical. Moreover, Gaiman’s characterizations were fabulous – after each, it was almost impossible not to picture the characters, down to the way that they moved and their facial expressions.  This wasn’t quite a book where the words disappeared from the page – those are very rare – but they did fade quite a bit.