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Book Review: Neil Gaiman's American Gods

October 4, 2016

I’d been excited to read this book for years, but like so many on my To Read list, it took me a while to crack the cover. I had American Gods on my Kindle, which I rarely use, and I knew that having a copy in-hand was the best way to make me get around to reading it; nothing gives me more guilt than an unread book sitting on my shelf. When I attended the Tattered Cover’s signing event for Felicia Day’s memoir I had reviewed earlier this year, I saw a copy of American Gods displayed on the shelf. It called out to me – a hard copy of a book I knew I wanted to read, with a lovely cover and a few words that jumped out: author’s preferred text. I probably have the exact same text on my Kindle version of the book, but there it was as I stood in line with four copies of Felicia Day’s book in my arms, and I stacked it on top of my pile.

The book quietly and deservedly shamed me for not reading it for months over a busy summer until I moved it to the top of my To Read list and berated myself for not reading it years ago before the first chapter was finished. While still in the first few chapters of American Gods, I was given another reason to read it -and faster. Starz announced a series based on the novel to be released in 2017 written by Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) and Michael Green, who will also serve as showrunners. When a movie based on a book is announced, even if I like the book, I groan knowing that it’s likely that the movie will make me one of those terrible people who pick apart what was left out and what was changed. But, like many readers, when a book is announced to be made into a series, I scream silently in excitement because of the potential for the material to be treated in the best possible way. Then the trailer was released in July, and I was filled with an intense amount of excitement.

 

 

I love characters and I love story. To be able to see these fascinating characters and this intense, very visual story to be played out on screen will be a book lover’s dream, and I look forward to seeing what direction the series takes this epic tale. And as it seems we’re getting more than one season, the story will have the opportunity to expand the universe Gaiman created, which is something the characters and story of American Gods are well deserving of.

 

Neil Gaiman is an amazing writer.  With Good Omens being one of my favorite novels (a book he wrote in collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett), the premise of American Gods caught my interest immediately. I’m intrigued by stories of gods and humans, demons and angels, and the potential for an end of days scenario. If you know me personally and my occasional fangirling persona, this comes as no surprise. In this novel, we’re introduced to Shadow Moon, a man who is about to be paroled from prison when he finds out his wife has been killed in a car accident. Meeting a man named Wednesday on his plane home to the funeral, Shadow is offered a job as a bodyguard and as a kind of errand boy. Reluctant at first, he realizes that with no wife, no future, and no other options, Shadow has to accept the offer. From there, everything is strange and nothing is quite right with the world in both explicit and inexplicable ways. Within the pages of American Gods, you’re introduced to characters and situations for which you must know what happens next. The layers of this story are highly imaginative with intriguing characters that struggle with free will, sacrifice, and the magical laws of belief. The protagonist Shadow is ripped from the world he understands and thrust via tragedy into a reality that can barely be believed. Once the veil is lifted, Shadow is suddenly privy to the inner workings of the lives of the gods. As a war is mounting between the old gods and the new, the reader is left to contemplate how the gods made their way to America in the first place, the way immigrants passed along the old country’s mythology to new generations, and what we put our faith in today. 

American Gods investigates what cultural beliefs have continued to be passed down, how our own mythologies have evolved over the years, and what gives our gods their power. Gaiman has taken the kind of questions that people have a tendency to wonder about in existential crises and created characters that embody the questioning, the indifferent, and the desperate to survive.

If you have wanted to read this novel or have heard of it but haven’t picked it up yet, let me tell you that you’re missing out. I plan on reading it again, as I am absolutely sure that a second read-through will give me a deeper insight into the story and love for the characters. Pick it up, bump it to the top of your To Read list, and let that unopened cover guilt you into diving into this battle between reality and fantasy in a world where gods exist – if our belief allows them.

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