“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered.”
A week before Shadow was to be released from prison, the warden tells him he will be turned out early. His wife is dead. On the flight home, he happens to sit next to a mysterious one-eyed man who calls himself Wednesday. Wednesday recruits Shadow to work for him, except this will be no ordinary job; Wednesday tells Shadow that Gods are real. Gods of old. New Gods. Norse Gods, Hindu Gods, African Gods, Gods that have long been forgotten, and Gods that are being forged everyday from mankind’s ever-changing obsessions and beliefs. But Gods are real. And the Old Gods and New Gods are about to go to war.
Not sure what to believe or not believe, Shadow gets sucked into a secret world within our world. One where Gods are not nearly as perfect as they should be, and the people are even less so. And caught between the warring faction is Shadow, wanted by both sides for reasons he does not know.
American Gods is not Gaiman’s first novel, but is almost certainly the one he is best known for, along with his graphic novels, The Sandman. I admit, I have never read any of Gaiman’s other works. I once bought a collection of his short stories, called Smoke and Mirrors, which I read very briefly before turning to other books that better held my interest. Suffice to say, then, that I didn’t go into the book with a ton of giddy excitement, despite the critical acclaim I am well aware the book received. Because of that, it should have been rather easy for Gaiman to pleasantly surprise me.
I found the book a chore to get through. I can admit that the writing was quite good, and Gaiman’s prose is quite poetic and full of metaphors. But it’s too poetic and has too many metaphors. Perhaps I am just dense and simplistic, but I find it hard to read a novel that spends this much time trying to be subtle. Some of that effort, I think, should have given to making the novel more engrossing.
There were parts that I liked. I like the basic idea of the “New Gods,” essentially anything from the modern era that the masses cling to and ‘believe’ in has created a ‘god.’ So we have gods of technology, gods of media, gods of cars, etc. And I like how the Old Gods – the traditional gods, such as Odin, Kali, and others – are shown to be growing weaker and are dying out because not enough people believe in them. I also like how Gaiman skillfully weaves in a wide variety of gods, both well-known and lesser-known, into the plot’s narrative. The premise, then, is solid. So what isn’t?
For me, the main problem is Shadow. As a protagonist, I found him to be exceedingly dull. There is really nothing interesting at all about him, and nor does he seem to actually do anything. Rather, things just happen to and around him. He is neither likable nor dis-likable, neither a hero nor a villain, not great but not terrible. He’s just… there. And considering the entire novel (except a handful of passages) are from his point-of-view, that is a problem.
Another big problem… I don’t quite know how to put this best, but nothing happens in the book. It seems the entire novel is one big (and slow) build-up to something that turns out to be inconsequential. It’s one of those novels you read once in a while that, once you are done with them, just makes you wonder, “what was the point?”
I had another problem with the book. Or rather, it is less a problem with what is in the book and more of a problem with an omission. In a novel that is called American Gods, and features all manner of deities, there was a rather glaring omission of Jesus Christ. Or, indeed, anyone from one of the three main Abrahamic religions. Since Jesus so clearly plays a large part in modern religion in America, I can only assume that Gaiman excluded him because he felt intimidated by the idea of offending the masses. Perhaps he, himself, was offended by the thought? In the version I read, which was the “Author’s Preferred Text,” Gaiman does include a brief chapter after the epilogue, one that was apparently cut out of the final novel. The chapter wasn’t impressive. So maybe the reason Gaiman made the omission is because he simply didn’t know how to include Jesus in a way that was interesting.
The novel has a bit of a twist ending, if you can call it that. Is it still a twist if I don’t care what happens?
In the end, I was glad when I finished it for the sole reasons that I can now read something else. Sorry, Mr. Gaiman. You have a ton of awards and acclaim thrown at this book. So you should have no regrets. For me, I will give the book a whimpering 2.5/5.
Review by Afa