When I was a boy, I loved reading.
Now, I still love reading, understand. More than just about anything else. But seriously, when I was a boy?
I LOVED reading. The way only a nerdy, lonely boy could.
And one of the genres I fell in love with was that of mythology. I loved hearing about all the battles, loves, tragedies and farces of the gods of the Greeks and the Romans, the gods of Egypt, Japan, Africa and North America. I steeped myself in it for years, and that love has never really dissipated.
I also love Neil Gaiman. So it seems only right that when I finally got around to read the book he is most known for, perhaps second only to Sandman, I absolutely loved it as well. That book is American Gods. From the website:
Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she’s been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same…
American Gods is many things; road trip novel, a noir mystery (completely with a hard-bitten protagonist who gets beaten up on the regular and a mysterious dame), a meditation on the American soul, allegory, comedy, bildungsroman. It is the author’s preferred text, longer than the original, but if it meanders a bit, I’m willing to go along, because, like any road trip, how you get there is just as important as the destination.
And it is quite a trip.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the main narrative thrust of the book is an impending war between the old gods (Odin, Anansi, Easter) who were brought by immigrants to America throughout the years, and the new American gods (News, Internet, Television, Planes). It is a fascinating setup, and Neil Gaiman, as he always does, fills out the world with beautiful, lyrical touches that bring it to life, to the point that I found myself wondering, “Wait, is this how America really works?” Well, sadly no, but it does set a beautiful backdrop for the story.
Shadow, the main character, is a quiet man, big and brooding, just getting out of prison and intending to build a better life for himself.
Unfortunately, he is also a bit boring.
But if Shadow is a bit of a cipher, it is more than compensated for by the wealth of vibrant secondary characters. The characters of Wednesday, Czernobog, Hinzelmann, Mr. Nancy, Mr. Ibis and others, come to life through subtle sketches, like Czernobog’s history in Chicago’s slaughterhouses, or Mr’s Ibis’ chapters, telling the stories of the immigrants who brought the gods over the ocean in their rituals, stories and habits. And even Shadow deepens and improves as a character throughout the story as he unravels the mysteries of an America he barely recognizes.
It is easy to see why American God’s was hailed as an instant classic upon it’s release in 2001. And you can bet that if the planned Starz series comes to pass, or when Gaiman’s planned sequel is released, I’ll be there day one, money in hand and ready to worship.