on September 20, 2006
I, personally, adored this book. I loved the descriptive art Gaiman used throughout the story, whether he was describing a character or an atmosphere... he made you feel it. This is by far, one of the most intriguing, and fascinating books I have ever read, and I loved every minute of it. :)
on May 29, 2002
Neil Gaiman's "American Gods", an intentionally oxymoronic title, is about the impending battle between the old gods (pick your poison: Odin, Loki, Vishnu, etc.) and the "new" (junk culture: TV, advertising, gambling, etc.). Stuck in the middle waiting to find out his destiny is a mortal man named Shadow. Soon to be released from jail, Shadow looks forward to a reunion with his wife Laura. Sadly, this reunion is not to be (or, it is not to be in the way Shadow envisions it). Shadow, stricken by grief, is thus enlisted in a battle, one that may decide the fate of the world, by a mysterious man named Wednesday.
Similar thematic territory was covered, with much more panache and verve, by Douglas Adams ("The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul") and by Neil's "Good Omens" writing partner, Terry Pratchett ("Small Gods"). Both books took a sidelong glance at the subject of modern deities and found an awful lot of humour there. Gaiman treats his subject with solemnity, and to my mind this is one of the reasons why the book suffers.
Fortunately, the story begins with a dramatic bang. Gaiman sets up his characters well, and then proceeds to create the universe in which they will live. He never betrays the beginning, but at times he lets the narrative (or, to describe it more accurately, the loose assemblage of scenes) get away from him. "I feel like I'm in a world with its own sense of logic. It's own rules," Shadow notes at one point early on. "I'm just going along with it, you know?" This is true, and it begins as a wonderful creation in Gaiman's hands. But later Shadow becomes more frustrated with the direction his life has taken: "Nobody tells me what [the rules] are. You keep talking about the goddamn rules, I don't even know what game you people are playing." This kind of frustration seeps into the reader's thoughts as well. Gaiman takes great care in hiding his motivations from both his character and his audience. You keep expecting a payoff, where the rules are explained, at least implicitly. But that rarely happens, and when it does it is quite unsatisfactory.
He also neglects to assemble a unifying narrative. What we have, instead, is an extended version of 'variations on a theme'. Shadow's adventures, although different and interesting every time, still follow the same basic formula. It becomes tiresome after a while. And what narrative it does have goes on for far too long. "Not only are there no happy endings," someone says near the end, "there aren't even any endings." Too true in this case. Further complicating things is the fact that this book has both an epilogue and a postscript. Gaiman may not have wanted to leave the world he's created, but the reader can't wait for it to finally be over.
All that being said, there are moments here that carry a tremendous amount of stark weight. One scene, at an odd boarding house, has Shadow losing a game of checkers only to face a frightening punishment: a sledgehammer to the head. Thankfully, he's able to put it off. Or is he? Later, we see Shadow in a moment of extreme sacrifice. Gaiman's descriptions of the broken man's thoughts in this chapter are heartbreaking, and believably authentic. The scenes in Lakeside, a small-town safe haven, if taken on their own (with some obvious re-working) might have made a wonderful self-contained short story. I just wish that Gaiman had found a way to string these events together in a unifying manner. Out of nowhere, you find Shadow talking to Lucille Ball, as Lucy Ricardo, on an old black-and-white TV. Or, apropos of nothing, Gaiman's narrator barges in to admit to the fictionality of the story he is telling: "None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as a metaphor." These are all great bits of writing, but they don't fit together to make a cohesive whole.
"American Gods", for me, is a very frustrating read, for just these reasons. It has boundless potential, but at every turn Gaiman fails to reach the high levels he's aiming for. It makes for a powerful work, one that's often boring, at times quite frustrating, but in moments quite exhilarating. At nearly 600 pages, anything is going to be hit or miss. I was just hoping for a few more hits from Gaiman, a writer I've admired in the past. I admire him here, too. I just didn't enjoy him that much.
on June 22, 2016
Many of my friends read and recommended this book in highschool, now ten years later I finally got myself a copy. I can see why many find this book enjoyable and why it won so many awards in its time. It's very distinct in its approach to building plot and characters. If you're a new reader, this may be just the book that delights you to dive into the fantasy genre. However, I found myself struggling to get through this novel. Perhaps this is because I've been reading fantasy my whole life and this just wasn't anything super new or intriguing to me.
The main character mostly floats through the plot and the plot is like a maze with a hundred dead ends. Every chapter introduces a dozen new concepts without tying up any loose ends. To be honest, I tried my best and only got through 46% of it before I couldn't force myself to read another word.
A super interesting concept that's well drawn out, but it failed to take it anywhere substantial, instead feeding you little spoonfuls of icing when you want the whole cake. Since I did not finish it, I assume the whole cake is given at the end, but I want willing to stick around when there are so many other things to read.
on January 25, 2015
When settlers came to America, over the ages they brought their gods with them in their minds. They brought Odin and Loki and Thor and Kali ... but as generations died or people forgot, these gods passed into myth. Now, weakened, these gods are not just left to get by as best as they can, they are also faced with a battle with the new gods: the gods of internet, neon and plastic. This is - in its most basic form - the story of “American Gods” by one of the greatest story tellers of our time, Neil Gaiman.
Recently released from prison, Shadow is enlisted by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, presumably to assist in collecting gods who will stand together when the war begins. From that point on we visit so many places, we meet so many people and we are told so many tales of magic and mortality. We visit an old fair with out-of-tune mechanical instruments and spend time in an old European house filled with cooking smells of a different world. We meet Anansi at a fair, Ibis and Jacquel at a funeral home, and Easter at San Fransisco. We go back to 15,000 BC and see waves of immigration over the ages, including the heartbreaking Coming to America of black people. And we stay at the pretty town of Lakeside with its mysteriously disappearing children.
But these are all just elements of the story - not the story itself. The story is something that has to be experienced personally. I would highly recommend reading this book (and, in fact, everything by this author).
All through this story, it kept occurring to me that this seemed more like a dream than a story. You know how in a dream things all seem normal when all of a sudden someone or something appears, or something happens that is totally off the wall but in the dream it makes perfect sense. No matter what it is, it never occurs to you that it isn't real. And when you go from one sequence of events to something completely different, there is still a flow to it in the dream that wouldn't happen in real life. Gaiman is a dreamer who is able to take his dreams and make them as real to us as it is to him. That's impressive.
This is a story within a story. The small story is about Shadow who has just been released from prison only to find out his wife is dead. On his trip back home, he is approached by Wednesday with a job offer and their travels together begin. The bigger story is about the gods of humanity. For thousands of years we have believe in one God or another to the point that there have been hundreds or thousands of them. Many are not believed in or even remembered anymore but because they were believed into existence, they are still here. There are also many new Gods, Gods of the digital age. The new Gods want the old Gods gone and a war is brewing.
I'd like to say I loved this story. I really liked it a lot but there was just something about it that kept me from getting there. I can't even tell you what that thing was although I can see why this book is loved. On the flip side, I can even see why some don't like it. You have to be a bit of a dreamer yourself to appreciate it and not everyone is.
Shadow is in prison, nearing the end of a three-year sentence for assault and looking forward to rejoining his wife Laura. He's tried to keep his head down, learning coin tricks and cell block aphorisms from his low-key cell mate. And then the world he's been reaching out for shatters. Summoned to the warden's office, Shadow learns that his wife has been killed in a car wreck and he will be released early to attend her funeral. He subsequently learns that he has also lost his best friend, his prospects for a job, his illusions about his marriage and any reason to stay in an empty house in his little town.
Shadow accepts an offer from Mr. Wednesday, seemingly encountered by chance on an airplane. He will be Wednesday's chauffer, bodyguard and... something like a straight man. As they travel through small-town America, Shadow--and the readers--figure out that his employer and those he meets with are more than quirky human beings. They are gods created and sustained by human belief. The gods now face a crisis. As Americans forget about them, they begin to fade away. Already too many are gone.
Wednesday tries to do something about this crisis while Shadow plays a strange and increasingly central role in his plans. We meet several gods and see signs of their waning influence in an America that has turned its attention to television, technology, and more modern diversions. Guiman paints the gods large, with expansive personalities, diverse powers, and astonishingly short attention plans.
The gods' need for human belief creates a fascinating world where nearly everything important happens behind the scenes. The slow development of Shadow as a more engaged human being and perhaps something more, is a well-woven plot element. As we follow him, we ponder mysteries in plain sight that others overlook. Why are roadside tourist attractions places of mythic power? What goes unexplained in the small places that draw back from the outside world? There are answers.
Neil Gaiman's story is imaginative, pleasant to read, and captures something of what seems definitively American to a transplanted British author. It is recommended. Appreciative readers may enjoy Shadow's further development in Anansi Boys.
on January 16, 2010
This is a very weird story. All the negative reviews have good points - this book is long, fragmented, confusing, twisted ... but it's also clever, funny, poignant and moving.
It took me a few pages to really get into it, but once I figured out what Gaiman was up to I read it straight through without stopping. At close to 6oo pages (588 or something like that?) it's a significant investment in time but worth the effort if you like this kind of thing.
Reminded me of an adult-themed Diana Wynne Jones story, and I was rather smug when I read the Afterword and learned that Gaiman had given the first draft to Wynne Jones to review. Gaiman also said he was inspired by the stories of Harlan Ellison, so if you ever got into Harlan Ellison's seriously twisted (but extremely memorable and often very funny) short stories you'll be pleased to find Gaiman a worthy successor.
Some infrequent but very graphic sex scenes, so heads up on that, but that seems to be par for the course with Gaiman's adult titles and it works in the context of the larger picture.
5 stars. One of Gaiman's best efforts to date, in my opinion.
on September 24, 2009
The Headline Review edition of "American Gods", by Neil Gaiman, is significantly changed from the edition that was published on June 19, 2001 and received so many nominations and won so many awards. This edition was published on September 19th, of 2005, and includes the "Author's Preferred Text", which Gaiman explains in the introduction as being a combination of his original unedited text along with editorial corrections which he made to the trimmed down award winning version. While I haven't read the original edition and thus I am unable to do a comparison, I can easily state that this new edition is an amazing work in and of itself.
The idea that Gods didn't exist without man is not original, but Neil Gaiman takes it to a new level. America is not only a melting pot for people, but for the Gods which they brought with them from all over the world, and those which the Native Americans created. Nor does Gaiman stop there, for as technology and industry have in some respects taken on aspects of religion in American society, those too appear in this mythological epic as the old Gods and new Gods take on adversarial positions as the storm looms throughout most of the book.
The hero of the book is Shadow, a man on the verge of being released from prison after serving his time is released a few days early because his wife has died in a car accident. As a result, the life that Shadow expected to return to is gone, even more so when he finds out that the man who was going to give him a job has also died in the same accident. At the same time, the mysterious Mr. Wednesday keeps turning up and is pursing hiring Shadow for a different type of job. Shadow resists at first, but when it is clear that he has no other life to return to, he decides to take the job. This is just the beginning of the adventure which will take Shadow on a mythological journey to a conflict between the Gods of the old world and the new Gods, i.e. industry, technology, etc., of the new world.
One can hardly do justice to a book of this scope in a short review, but this 635 page novel is a blend of mythology, murder mystery, fantasy adventure, and horror. There are a few extras as well, including an introduction to the "Author's Preferred Edition", an interview with Neil Gaiman, and some reading-group discussion questions, and a short essay titled "How Dare You?" by the author. The extras are nice, but the novel is extraordinary.
There are times when one reads a book which has won awards and they wonder what the people who give out the awards were thinking. This is not one of those times. The nominations include the 2002 World Fantasy Award, the 2002 British Fantasy Award, the 2002 British SF Award, the 2002 International Horror Guild Award, the 2002 Mythopoeic award for adult literature, finishing 3rd on the 2002 SF Site Poll for SF/Fantasy books, being nominated in 2003 and 2004 for the Italia Award for international novels, finishing 2nd both times, and being nominated for the 2004 Phantastik award for foreign novels. Even more impressive is the list of awards won, which include the 2002 Hugo Award, the 2002 Bram Stoker Award, the 2002 Locus Award (for fantasy novel), the 2003 Nebula Award, and the 2003 Geffen Award for fantasy book.
on August 26, 2009
Neil Gaiman has been named as one of the top ten living post-modern writers (the Dictionary of Literary Biography). A prolific creator of comics, drama, poetry, prose and song lyrics, he's also been called the new face of horror fiction. You can even find him active in other media such as blogging, film, journalism, radio and television.
His New York Times best-selling novel, American Gods, was awarded the Bram Stoker, Locus, Hugo, Nebula and SFX awards.
Anansi Boys, closely related to American Gods, has elements of comedy, horror, romance, the supernatural and even humour.
His collection of short fiction, Smoke and Mirrors, dark and unique, has been compared to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King (who is, himself, a fan of the author).
Better known for his classic work, The Sandman, a collection of modern, adult comics, Gaiman is a forty-something Englishman who now lives in the U.S.
I've read all three of the books mentioned. My 17 year-old son, a fan of The Sandman, bought them and insisted I devote some time to them. He figured if I was a fan of Stephen King, a horror writer who is arguably the finest story teller around, I just had to love Gaiman. He was right.
I can't think of anyone who has created a mythology quite like Gaiman's. His haunting vision of the landscape of modern Gods makes my skin crawl, yet I find myself unable to leave his work alone. His writing is like a drug that hooks you and leaves you an addict who must have more.
If you're new to the horror genre, I'd recommend adding this author to your reading list. More literary than Stephen King and possibly more difficult to read, Neil Gaiman will reward you for your effort.
Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009
on July 19, 2004
1. Reflections: When this book was written, it became an immediate bestseller. Previously, Gaiman had only been known for his lengthy and verbose Sandman graphic novels, more of a specialist collection of the strange and beautiful. Why did people respond so well to American Gods?
2. Thematics: American Gods continually claims that the existence of gods is only because we need them, and when we lose the need, they fade into oblivion. Does Gaiman offer any solutions to this problem?
3. Characterization: From the moment we are introduced to him Shadow remains a mystery. As we follow him on his journey, it could be said that he is a walking shadow. Yet there is a deeper significance of his name. What is it?
4. Symbolism: Gaiman asserts that many objects in today's world, such as historical monuments, popular festivals, and contemporary philosophies, had their roots in a pan-theological foundation, or from the hands of many gods. What examples do you see in American Gods? What examples do you see that Gaiman doesn't mention?
5. Authorship: In Gaiman's other works, he often writes about similar themes. The gods in the contemporary world, the reality of the dream, the immortal nature of the spirit world, the failing of the gods to appease mortals and thus are forgotten, the mastery of the human over the material but limited in the spiritual: these are all themes be tries to work into his books. In what ways does Gaiman break with his tradition in American Gods? In what ways has his philosophy changed by becoming a novelist?