American Gods: A Novel Paperback – Aug 15 2003
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American Gods is Neil Gaiman's best and most ambitious novel yet, a scary, strange, and hallucinogenic road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American spirit. Gaiman tackles everything from the onslaught of the information age to the meaning of death, but he doesn't sacrifice the razor-sharp plotting and narrative style he's been delivering since his Sandman days.
Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow's dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost--the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.
Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow's road story is the heart of the novel, and it's here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. "This is a bad land for Gods," says Shadow.
More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what's real and what's not. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Titans clash, but with more fuss than fury in this fantasy demi-epic from the author of Neverwhere. The intriguing premise of Gaiman's tale is that the gods of European yore, who came to North America with their immigrant believers, are squaring off for a rumble with new indigenous deities: "gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon." They all walk around in mufti, disguised as ordinary people, which causes no end of trouble for 32-year-old protagonist Shadow Moon, who can't turn around without bumping into a minor divinity. Released from prison the day after his beloved wife dies in a car accident, Shadow takes a job as emissary for Mr. Wednesday, avatar of the Norse god Grimnir, unaware that his boss's recruiting trip across the American heartland will subject him to repeat visits from the reanimated corpse of his dead wife and brutal roughing up by the goons of Wednesday's adversary, Mr. World. At last Shadow must reevaluate his own deeply held beliefs in order to determine his crucial role in the final showdown. Gaiman tries to keep the magical and the mundane evenly balanced, but he is clearly more interested in the activities of his human protagonists: Shadow's poignant personal moments and the tale's affectionate slices of smalltown life are much better developed than the aimless plot, which bounces Shadow from one episodic encounter to another in a design only the gods seem to know. Mere mortal readers will enjoy the tale's wit, but puzzle over its strained mythopoeia. (One-day laydown, June 19)Forecast: Even when he isn't in top form, Gaiman, creator of the acclaimed Sandman comics series, trumps many storytellers. Momentously titled, and allotted a dramatic one-day laydown with a 12-city author tour, his latest will appeal to fans and attract mainstream review coverage for better or for worse because of the rich possibilities of its premise.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Shadow, on early release from prison, attends his wife's funeral, gets hired by a god, is visited by his dead wife (“I’m cold, puppy.”), meets old-world gods and fey and heroes, serial killers and fortune tellers who lie (and even worse, fortune tellers who tell the truth), finds out where Americans really worship, and helps arrange a battle of the gods.
I really enjoyed this book. Mostly because of the writing, itself. If you're a fan of Gaiman you really don't need a review, because you are a fan of his writing style. (note: he is also very easy to listen to) The man's a born storyteller. One of the true greats.
If you've never read Gaiman, then this book is about a man who is lost, existentially. He has no direction, no purpose, and not much of a clue about what's happening, nor does he really care. The novel's about his finding a purpose, in a situation that may hold apocalyptic consequences.
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.
I'd feel embarrassed that I've waited this long to approach the book except that I'm more than a lot thankful this is the version I dove into.
Brilliant work accompanied by bountiful preamble and afterwards.
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The edition is nice, very portable, smaller than you would think.