Gaiman - American Gods

December 30, 2004

Neil Gaiman
American Gods

This is a big book. It is such a big book that it took me a couple of weeks to think about what I wanted to say about it, and I still don't have anything coherent other than a strong wow and a small and poorly articulated wah.

I had looked at the book a couple of times before reading some rave reviews over on Crooked Timber, and had steered away from it because the cover blurb made it sound like a bad Sandman/Dark Knight ripoff. I was braced for anxty alienated loner with a grudge against the world and a monomaniacal desire for, something - revenge perhaps, or justice, or something compelling.

That is not the story.

Instead we have Shadow, a very sweet somewhat passive and very large man, and his misadventures with Mr Wednesday - a name that when Gaiman finally spelled out its implications I kicked myself for having missed.

The premise is fairly simple: the old gods - gods who immigrated from Europe, Africa, and Asia during the peopling of America - are fading away and being replaced by new gods - the internet, the intangibles on Wall Street - as supernatural beings that shape our lives and must be believed in and supplicated. A Mr. World is organizing the new gods to wipe out the old gods, and Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old gods to survive. Things progress from there, but so much you get in the first hundred pages or so.

This is a mind-blowing concept. It reminds us of the great many things in this modern world that we believe in, trust, appeal to, and yet do not fully understand. If a god is a black box that you pour emotions and sacrifice into, and that rewards you by granting or denying your desires, then we have an awful lot of new gods.

I spent a lot of time after reading the ending trying to decide what it all meant. I am still not sure. If I discuss it here, this will become a spoiler and not a review.

Still, let me just say that while we find out where Shadow comes from, I at least was left very unclear about where Shadow was going. In part, that is because Shadow himself ends the book unsure of his own future. I normally like indeterminate endings where you can use your imagination to complete the narrative - one of the way cool things about Walter Jon Williams' City on Fire is the indeterminate ending. Still, in this case I wanted to have done a better job of putting the hints together. I tried to re-read it to see if it worked better the second time, but it was not a book that wanted a rapid re-read.

Still, highly recommended. J listened to it as an audiobook as I read it on paper, and having listened to a few scenes I do think it works better when read aloud than it does when read on the page. The language is that thick, and that powerful, and that smooth.

Note, tweaking the date because I read this in late December. The review was written Jan 9, 2004.

Posted by Red Ted at December 30, 2004 09:24 PM | TrackBack
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