It took me several weeks to read this dense book, but the journey was one of the most fulfilling ones I’ve ever had.
Essentially, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a road-trip story. Ex-convict Shadow is released from prison, hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, and travels across the country as Mr. Wednesday’s body man. But anyone who tells you that the plot of American Gods is the most compelling part is lying to you.
American Gods is a true work of literature. The foreboding tone, coupled with Shadow’s apathy, create an atmosphere in which the reader is never completely sure what is going to happen. Shadow gets dragged around the country, but is simultaneously dealing with recently being released from prison and the death of his wife. Due to this, he just wants to be left alone to do his job. At the same time, he can’t help but notice the stranger and stranger (and more deadly) things that keep happening to him and Mr. Wednesday. All of this, paired with the storm motif that runs through the length of the novel, conjures a suspenseful tone that pulls the reader through the whole of the text.
To me, the most beautiful thing about this novel is the theme of cynical hope. (An oxymoron, I know.) Without giving too much away, the despair of a “land without gods” and the new “gods” that America worships (Media, etc) is tempered by the sheer humanity of Shadow. Sometimes, he doesn’t do what serves his interests, like the gods do. Instead, he chooses to be compassionate to others. As an ex-convict, Shadow could have been hardened by the world. Instead, he chooses to be a decent person, even to those who don’t deserve it.
Also, mythology fans will be constantly and consistently surprised by the amount of obscure gods that show their faces in the story. While it was fun to look up the unknown ones myself, a resource guide of some sort would have been helpful. But in a never-ending list of praises, this small complaint is negligible.
This book was one I wanted to read someday, but I chose to move it up the list at a friend’s urging. Like many others who’ve experienced it, this novel made me view the contemporary American society I inhabit in a new perspective.