Sunday, June 16, 2013

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

American GodsThis book is quirky, bizarre . . . and brilliant. It's definitely not a book for everyone, but a week after reading it, I'm still thinking about it. To me, that's a good sign.

Gaiman starts from one startlingly original idea: what if everyone who came to America brought their gods with them--literally? Sprawling across the pages of this novel are gods from almost every conceivable mythology, plus a few that I'm not sure Gaiman didn't invent.

Shadow, the main point-of-view character, is having a rough time of things as the novel starts. He's just been told he's being released early from jail--only to find that his wife and the job he thought he had waiting for him (working for his best friend) are gone, destroyed by a devastating auto accident. Shadow heads home, but with nothing to ground him, he finds himself at loose ends--only to wind up in the employ of a Mr. Wednesday, a man who is definitely odd, but also, as Shadow reluctantly comes to suspect, might just be one of the gods in the title. Through Wednesday, Shadow finds himself drawn into the battle that's brewing between the old gods and the new American gods (television, technology, media, etc.). And Shadow himself might have a pivotal role to play.

There's a lot to like about this novel: the characters, as some have noted, can be a little off-putting but they were so well-drawn that I was fascinated by them. I loved the pantheon of gods, and I thought Gaiman's modern day interpretations were brilliant. (I also loved the idea of roadside attractions as a kind of holy places for old gods). The storytelling was pretty amazing, the way Gaiman wove together seemingly unrelated stories and made them cohesive.

There were also some things I didn't love (things which would make me reluctant to recommend this to some readers): lots of profanity, and some disturbingly graphic sex scenes (more disturbing than graphic, actually). The ending itself was also a little ambiguous--probably deliberately so, but after sticking through a long and convoluted plot, I wanted a little more closure.

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