Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Uncollected Thoughts On Neil Gaiman's American Gods

Is it fair to say that Neil Gaiman's American Gods, published in 2001, has already achieved "new classic" status? I bet Gaiman's diehard fans would say so. Me? I liked this book well enough, but it didn't change my life. I appreciated the storytelling, the craft, and the creativity. I enjoyed reading it. But it's not a novel that left me breathless, as it has so many Gaiman fans. So in lieu of a review, here are a few general thoughts about the book.

1) This is the first time I've read Gaiman, and through the first 200 pages or so I had to remind myself I wasn't reading Stephen King. Gaiman fans probably see that as a slight. I don't mean it as such — it was just a thought that occurred to me in the first pages, probably because of the supernatural elements, the dialogue, and the roadtrip-ness, and that I had trouble removing from brain after.

2) Strangely enough, even with all the supernatural flair here, my favorite section of the novel is the part where Shadow makes a domestic life for himself in the cold environs of Lakeside, Wisconsin. It's such a contrast to everything that came before and then comes after. It's a quiet, mysterious section of story. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

3) Man, there are some wonderful pieces of wisdom in this novel. Here are three of my favorite quotes:
"Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives."
"Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you — even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers and triumphs over all opposition."
“What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul.”
4) There are a surprising number of surprises in this novel! Just when you think you've got it figured out — new gods vs. old gods, old gods are fading because Americans lack belief, Wednesday is leading a war to the death — Gaiman gives you the slip. I really liked this about the novel, as I'd been under the impression that it was lots more "straightforward" than it is.

5) Speaking of which, man, there's a lot to unpack here — the foundation and nature of belief, delusion vs. faith, the soul of America, the fine line between life and death, loyalty, evil, etc. The depth of this novel was also a surprise. I'd gone in thinking it was a fairly straightforward book with some goofy supernatural stuff — I even kind of made fun of this book before giving it a try. It's a profound, smart story that does really require a second (or third or fourth) reading to figure out in total. I don't know whether I'll be doing that, but I'm certainly glad I finally gave Gaiman a shot — and looking forward to reading more by him. 


  1. If you enjoyed American Gods (and who doesn't), you should check out his Anansi Boys, it's sort of a sequel. Or, his absolutely beautiful Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's way too short, but perfect.

    In my mind, I always join American Gods with Douglas Adams' A Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Of course, that's because of the gods, but despite the very different stories and ways of telling them, they have become intertwined in my thinking.

    1. Nice - thanks for recommendations. I actually have a copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane. I've heard an actual sequel to American Gods is in the offing, too - right after Gaiman finishes teleplay for the HBO adaption of the first American Gods.

  2. It actually took me 3 tries to get through this book, but I was glad in the end that I finished. I had real issues with Shadow my first 2 attempts. I didn't like the way he seemed so willing to accept the supernatural elements that sprung up around him (dead wife shows up out of no where and he hardly acts surprised), however each time when I got a little further I began to appreciate his character more. I'd actually love to see a spin off or prequel that dealt more with the old world gods and how they came into existence.

    1. I didn't like Shadow's passivity either, but I'd been warned by other Gaiman fans that you just have to accept that the characters accept weird stuff because Gaiman novels have their own rules. Shadow, still, seems a bit uneven throughout the book - sometimes he takes initiative and is forward (challenging the guy in Chicago to a life or death game of checkers) but most of the time he just does what he's told and doesn't spend a whole lot of time asking questions.

  3. It's good to hear someone other than a Neil Gaiman fan who has been able to enjoy this book. Everyone I've recommended it to has not been able to finish it. I myself am a big fan and count this as one of my favorites. I enjoyed your thoughts.