Friday, January 1, 2010

"American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

"Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?"
"And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn't room for them both in the world.  And that some kind of war is kind of likely." (308)
When people of various cultures and origins came to America, they brought their gods, legends, and myths with them.  As time went on, people abandoned their old religions, but the gods did not disappear.  They remained in America, growing weak from lack of prayer, sacrifice, and worship.  In turn, new gods--of technology, of media--grew stronger, although history has shown that no god stays in the people's minds forever.  American Gods follows Shadow, a man due to be released from prison who is eager to return to his wife Laura.  Days before his release, he learns Laura is dead, and he finds himself in the employment of the mysterious Wednesday.  Suddenly he is in the middle of the impending war of the gods.

Musings: I'm certainly a Neil Gaiman fan, and I think he's actually my most read author of this past year.  American Gods probably would not be the first Gaiman novel I'd recommend to someone else, but I enjoyed reading it.

Like Gaiman's other works, American Gods does an excellent job combining the real world and fantasy world in a way that makes it seem as though both could occur simultaneously.  And like in Neverwhere, this book has an "ordinary" man exploring this fantasy world, trying to make sense (along with the reader) of the mysteries and strange people encountered on the journey.

Shadow, the protagonist, is a likable character whose steadfastness and loyalty carry him throughout the book.  He is a foil to his employer, Mr. Wednesday, who uses lies and trickery to get what he wants.  Gaiman is skilled at populating his world with interesting characters, which in this case include the cranky Czernobog, the elderly Hinzelmann (AG gives a lot of time to old characters, something you don't see a lot), and the wife Laura.

Although I liked the colorful characters, I did find the sheer number of characters somewhat overwhelming and occasionally found myself getting them mixed up.  Since many of the characters rely on cultures' mythologies and legends, I also felt I was sometimes was missing out on plot points because I was not familiar with those mythologies.  I knew Anansi was a trickster, and I was familiar with the names Odin and Loki, but that was about it.

So many mysterious and deep moments come and go that I don't feel sure of a central theme.  Perhaps a second reading of the book would make it easier to piece together the different moments on Shadow's odyssey.  He goes through so much and is told so little at a time that I gave up trying to follow the meaning of his path.  At the end, Shadow claims he hasn't really learned anything, and maybe that's the truth for us all.

There is some interesting commentary in the novel on why gods and other figures of worship are created, but it was a bit hidden in all the other craziness of the book.

My only coherent question upon finishing the book was "Where's Santa Claus?"  I wonder what side he'd be on.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! I've been wanting to read this. I do have trouble with books with lots of characters though, but maybe I'll be ok if I read it quickly. :)