American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Read July 2011
Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman
★     ★     1/2

American Gods, a meandering tale of a book, took me at least two tries to get through, despite my gravitation towards urban fantasy.. The concept of “old versus modern” gods is an intriguing one, and I can always get involved in themes of belief, stories and myth. It didn’t always work, however, and was completed at stuttering pace. Transitions can be rough, and it’s not always clear where a particular chunk of narrative is heading. I feel like part of it is that we have indeed lost the old gods, and many people need a little background on Gaiman’s creatures in order to appreciate the tale he’s telling. Often it’s well done, but at times it interrupts the flow of the narrative.

I often enjoy Gaiman’s imagery, although occasionally it’s self indulgent, seemingly for the sake of being shocking, like the woman that swallows a man through her vagina during sex, and a dead person vomiting maggots.

A few loose ends don’t particularly seem pertinent. (spoilers follow in this paragraph) such as the leprechaun that gives Shadow a gold piece, which Shadow then is moved to throw it into Laura’s grave. I’m not sure of the point of that subplot either–the power of belief?

I’m never particularly moved by Gaiman’s use of language, but he has a deft hand at characterization. Characters and ideas are clearly his strengths. I loved some of the old gods, and thought Mr. Nancy and the Chicago family particularly well done. The new gods were less well done, though the concept is a fascinating one. Most of the time is spent on the internet/tech and media gods, and they are done well enough to be immediately annoying. However, the pantheon gets a little fuzzy at this point, particularly in Gaiman’s decision to largely leave out “modern” organized religion–as Anubis and Bast and such were worshipped by Egyptians, it seems fair to acknowledge Jesus as more than a hitchhiker in Afganistan. I wonder if he avoided it for complexity? Controversy?

The voice and tone is narrator is emotionally removed from the story, but I felt it suited the tone and scope of the novel well. I liked Shadow and felt he was a very believable character for a while. Emphasizing his numbness and distance helped explained how he could be so blase about the return of his dead wife and Mr. Wednesday’s abilities. It’s interesting that after his initial questioning and challenging of Mr. Wednesday and the leprechaun, he accepts the rest of the magic at face value.

I have mixed feelings about the ending. (spoilers follow in this paragraph) I’m a little disappointed that Shadow chose to “rest,” and wonder if it’s inconsistent, as all along he’s been Wednesday’s man, paid to work and protect him. And the fact that the plot of the novel is a double con–well, I too feel more than a little betrayed. It seemed weak that both old and new gods took Shadow’s announcement and popped back to reality, ready to abandon the fight then and there. Certainly their animosity had to be based on something, and removal of primary motivation doesn’t remove built up antagonism.

Worth noting that I sold my copy to Half Price Books, because it’s space on the shelf was worth more than the slim chance of re-read. Two-and-a-half stars, rounding down because my memory assures me I don’t want to touch it again.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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