American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Maturity Level: 5
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Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
I am really struggling to come up with a rating for this book because I’m not really sure whether I liked it or not. Maybe the process of writing this review will help me figure it out.
As far as Urban Fantasy goes, American Gods pulls out all of the stops. It’s gritty, dark, and a fascinating blend of what’s real, what isn’t, and what might be. I would sort of describe it as Percy Jackson for adults, because Riordan was so clearly influenced by this book and its premise. But that comparison just doesn’t feel right. Percy Jackson is uplifting. American Gods is Urban Fantasy, so it is most decidedly NOT.
While I’m talking about grittiness and adult themes, this book was weirdly sexual. There were multiple graphic encounters with gods (or god-like beings), and all of theme were pretty disturbing. Not disturbing because I’m a prude (which isn’t wrong…) but ACTUALLY disturbing. Wrong. Uncomfortable. Bizarre. So if that’s not for you, be aware.
What I think I didn’t like about American Gods was that I didn’t really ever understand what was going on. This was purposeful on Gaiman’s part, I believe. Normally I don’t have a problem with being in the dark and having to figure it out, but I think the reason this didn’t work for me was that the protagonist, Shadow, had no desire and made no effort to figure things out. He was perfectly fine with not having a clue what was about to happen to him. It was like reading from the point-of-view of the sidekick. The ignorant side-kick.
Which brings me to Shadow himself. He was completely willing to hand his destiny over to others. He didn’t even try to influence the outcome of the book OR his life. That really bugged me. And I seem to remember feeling the same way about Tristan after I read Stardust. Maybe Gaiman just isn’t right for me…
There was a lot of payoff at the end. Revelations once made started coming pretty freely. They all seemed so obvious that I didn’t know how I missed it, and yet shocked me anyway. The end is one of those paradigm shifts that made me re-think about the entire book. This is definitely one of those cases where a re-read would be a completely different experience. Very Ender’s Game or Life of Pi.
But even after all of the revelations, I’m just not sure what the POINT was. I felt while I was reading this book like I was wandering around with a blindfold on. And at the end the blindfold was removed, but my head had been cut off so it didn’t really make much difference.
I did enjoy the way the gods where characterized. As I said, I see a lot of influence into Riordan’s work, and the way he paints the modern gods is a big part of that. I also loved the blend of so many cultures together. When this book was written in the 90s we talked about America as a “melting pot”, and this novel really reflects that. Also fascinating was the idea that technology is used to the point of “worship”, so that the television becomes a “god” in its own right. Brilliant.
So I guess my conclusion is, 1-star for plot and characterization, 5-stars for Urban Fantasy and modern gods. I guess I’ll be putting it smack dab in the middle. Which, honestly, is a huge disappointment. I was so sure this was going to be a 5-star read for me, and not just because literally EVERY SINGLE friend of mine on goodreads rated it 5-stars. Because it seemed right up by ally. But as I said, I guess Gaiman just isn’t for me. Too bad, I really wanted to love him.