American Gods

Posted on January 16th, 2014
American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
Published by Headline Review in 2005
Pages: 736
Location: USA
Mode of travel: Bus, Car, Plane
Buy from Amazon USA
Buy from Amazon UK

*** There are several versions of this book. I read the extended version ***

After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the time until his release ticks away, he can feel a storm brewing. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But the storm is about to break...

I really hesitated over whether to give this book two stars or three so it gets 2.5 even though I don’t approve of half stars. I really didn’t like American Gods very much. I even stopped reading it for two months around the 45% mark, then got through the rest by dint of being a very fast reader, just so I could write a review. Still, from time to time, the sun would shine through the clouds and I would love it. It’s left… a series of memories, some of which are interesting.

The problems: It’s not just that it’s a travelogue of some of the more, errr… uninspiring parts of the United States, with a plot loosely tacked on. I would be the last person to hold that against a book. I think the main problem is the main character, whose name might as well have been called Shallow instead of Shadow.

His own wife said it all:

 ‘It’s like there isn’t anyone there. You know? You’re like this big, solid, man-shaped hole in the world… Even when we were together. I loved being with you because you adored me, and you would do anything for me. But sometimes I’d go into a room and I wouldn’t think there was anybody in it. And I’d turn the light on, or I’d turn the light off, and I’d realize that you were in there, sitting on your own, not reading, not watching TV, not doing anything.’

This is the guy Gaiman wants us to go on a road trip through the States with. Thank goodness his wife is interesting to hang around with even if she is a View Spoiler » who only has a rather secondary part.

Even if I did have to go on a road trip with Shadow and his little god friends, I would not spend nearly so much time driving on boring roads and eating lousy meals in seamy restaurants while having marginally meaningful conversations. At least I hope not. I felt genuinely relieved every time Shadow seemed to be a gonner – for both our sakes – and vaguely disappointed when he escaped.

There are better ways to enjoy Route 20

There are better ways to enjoy Route 20 than with a shadow in the passenger seat!

The good bits: I did like the series of short stories buried within the book, the tales of the Old World people, their journeys to the New World and the gods they brought with them. In fact, I liked these parts a lot, enough to be really moved by them. I could relate to the Old Worlders, not surprisingly, since I am one, and to the idea of subsequent generations losing the spiritual connections of their ancestors. I found the whole theme of America and its relationship to the Old World religions, or even its own new ones, very interesting.

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