Wednesday, November 29, 2017

[Review] American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Rating: 5 stars

Published: July 2001
Format: 10th Anniversary Edition Mass PB

Goodreads Synopsis:
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the 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 a 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. Soon Shadow learns that the past never dies...and 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.
I never read Gaiman before this. But he's the favorite author of so many of my friends, and Victoria Schwab (my favorite author), also draws from Gaiman's storyteller vibes, so of course I had to read his works!

This is also a good time to mention that I had to read The Graveyard Book for my seminar English class in the same week I was reading American Gods. But that is for another review. 

I'm also reading the expanded version, which was a thick chunk of text. It was so worth it, though, those 700ish pages. Every single page.

We start off with Shadow, whose about to be released from jail after a few years, and is excited to see his wife, Laura. However, he is released a few days early on account of the fact that his best friend Robbie and his wife died in a car crash. Shadow, having lost everything meaningful to him, is sought out by Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job as a driver/bodyguard. Mr. Wednesday's intentions are unknown, but soon Shadow is opened up to the world of the gods. Gods, in this world, are sustained by belief, but there are two factions - the old ones, who were carried by immigrants of old, and the new, who are conceptualized by technology. The new gods wish to eliminate what they believe are the old useless gods. 

The way Gaiman interweaves details and crafts such an intricate, in-depth world is masterful. Characters who may seem minor play surprise bigger roles. The stories Mr. Wednesday tell hint at what is in store. There's so much meaning in this book that is laced into simply good storytelling. The interlude includes tales of the first gods, of Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, of an Ifrit switching lives with a man lost on his feet, of the fairies coming to America. It's a story of immigration, redemption, and peace. 

Shadow, our main character, is a believable, relatable guy - we follow him through his disbelief at what is happening. After a time, he sort of comes to accept in the impossible. His relationship with Wednesday is a strange one... it's not fatherly, or friendshippy, but something akin to respect, and I like that Shadow, while a tough and strong guy, was also some sort of genius who liked to read Herodotus. 

Laura, his revenant deadish wife, was my favorite character. She's multifaceted and badass, but what it boils down to is her path towards atonement. It's bittersweet, seeing her mull over her love of Shadow. 

"I want to be alive again," she said. "Not in this half-life. I want to be really alive. I want to feel my heart pumping in my chest again. I want to feel blood moving through me- hot, and salt, and real. It's weird, you think you can feel it, the blood, but believe me, when it stops flowing, you'll know." She rubbed her eyes, smudging her face with red from the mess on her hands. "Look, I don't know why this happened to me. But it's hard. You know why dead people only go out at night, puppy? Because it's easier to pass for real, in the dark. And I don't want to have to pass. I want to be alive." 

The thing about this book is that there's a huge cast of characters, but everyone has their own voice. Mr. Nancy, the Zorya sisters, Czernobog - they breathe and have personality and you can practically hear them as you read off the page. Gaiman's writing is wonderful in that regard. The translation of the old gods into their modern American counterparts is clever, not cliched. 

There's wisdom in many parts of this book, but I'm going to try to narrow it down to my favorites. His writing can even be looked at as poetic, in a way. And funny, too.

The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow.
"Fuck you," said the raven. 

There is a secret that the casinos possess, a secret they hold and guard and prize, the holiest of their mysteries. For most people do not gamble to win money, after all, although that is what is advertised, sold, claimed, and dreamed. But that is merely the easy lie that allows the gamblers to lie to themselves, the big lie that gets them through the enormous, ever-open, welcoming doors.
The secret is this: people gamble to lose money. They come to the casinos for the moment in which they feel alive, to ride the spinning wheel and turn with the cards and lose themselves, with the coins, in the slots. They want to know they matter. They may brag about the nights they won, the money they took from the casino, but they treasure, secretly treasure, the times they lost. It's a sacrifice, of sorts. 

"Why don't you argue?" asked Wednesday. "Why don't you exclaim that it's all impossible? Why the hell do you just do what I say and take it all so fucking calmly?"
"Because you're not paying me to ask questions," said shadow. And then he said, realizing the truth as the words came out of his mouth, "Anyway, nothing's really surprised me since Laura."
"Since she came back from the dead?"
"Since I learned she was screwing Robbie. That one hurt. Everything else just sits on the surface." 

"I miss you," he admitted.
"I'm here," she said.
"That's when I miss you most. When you're here When you aren't here, when you're just a ghost from the past or a dream from another life, t's easier then."
She squeezed his fingers.
"So," he asked. "How's death?"
"Hard," she said. "It just keeps going."

Thinking back on this book, I can't believe that I didn't realize this sooner - the old gods versus the new war seems to have parallels to today's society. Losing grasp of traditions and cultures of the old world as we become immerse in the technologic new world. 

And yes, I've been watching clips of the adapted show and will be watching it soon. It looked so good, and I'm hoping for a sequel with American Gods. 

1 comment:

  1. I want to read this book, especially after reading The Graveyard Book myself. This author is a master of storytelling and his characters are well drawn and fleshed out on paper. Thanks for the review.