Monday, 8 August 2011

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

"The central premise of the novel is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States, brought with them their beliefs in leprechauns, dwarves, and other spirits and gods. Over time, Americans' beliefs and allegiances have changed. Devotion to older gods have given way to devotion to newer more materialistic gods, reflecting America's obsession with the Internet, technology, and media. The power of the older gods has diminished as people's beliefs wane, and there is only so much belief to go around, which leads to a battle between the old gods and the new ones.

Leading us on this journey is Shadow, who upon his release from prison learns that his wife has just died in a car accident, leaving him without a job or anyone to come home to. On the plane ride home for her funeral, Shadow meets "Mr. Wednesday", who wants to hire Shadow to be his chauffeur, errand boy, and body guard. Being an ex-con without a job, Shadow reluctantly takes him up on the offer. The two depart on a road trip across America to assemble the old gods and prepare for the upcoming battle. "

There's definitely an epic feel to this book, it's a fantasy classic everyone should read, but like many classics, it's not an easy or fast read. There are some times where it drags a bit and the reader is struggling to figure out how all the pieces fit into the plot of the story. I think it's during this struggle that we realize what this book is really about. The gods and their desire to gain power is all there, but as Mr. Wednesday would say, that's just misdirection. While we're focused on the gods and their aforementioned battle, it's Shadow's journey that's the real point of the story.

Shadow is a guy whp sort of drifts through life. Life happens to him more than he makes things happen. Through the tasks and work he must do for Mr. Wednesday, Shadow learns about himself, and must examine who he really is and who he wants to become. It's about who he meets along the way and how they change him. By the end, we see Shadow's journey has just begun.

Gaiman is a master storyteller who brilliantly distracts us with one thing while surprising us with something totally different; a story we didn't even know we were looking for. Though I have unanswered questions, and am left wishing more explanation was given, I still feel satisfied because the book was so well written and the characters were so interesting.
The carousel at "House on the Rock" in Wisconsin, an attraction featured in the book.
Warning Spoilers:
Here is a list of a few unanswered questions that I and my fellow book club members had:

-Why do the gods want to fight? Wednesday needs deaths in his name, so his motivation is understandable, (as is Loki's) but why do the other gods want to fight? Is it for sport? Why is it a benefit to the gods themselves, it doesn't gain them followers or "belief", which is how they get power.

-Shadow "discovers" Wednesday's plot in the end, he just suddenly "knows" the truth. How?

-And after discovering the master plan, Shadow defuses the fight in 1/2 a page, and everyone is so uninvested in fighting in general that some dude saying "you know you shouldn't be fighting" is enough to make an army of age old gods stop without any questions or objections. It's just done.

-There's no epic battle at the end. It's sort of like the end of "Good Omens" where you have this build up and expectation of some action, but then nothing. The difference between the end of American Gods and Good Omens is that in American Gods you realize that the value of the story was all about getting to the battle.

-It would have been nice in this "battle" between the gods if it was explained how the gods "die". If the reason why the gods exist is because people believe in them, than how can Loki kill the god of the Internet? People still "believe" in the internet; killing "Internet" does nothing to solve the problem of belief, and seemingly has no impact on the old gods, or on the actual Internet.

Bottom Line: A story about a road trip through America and the strange beings met along the way. A unique study in humanity through the eyes of an ex-con, as he realizes that he merely drifts through life as a spectator, never going after what he wants. While not perfect, still an amazing book. Grade: B+.


Braine said...

The premise looks promising but too much details can indeed dampen one's enthusiasm.

Sherry Soule said...

Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and opinions about the book.
BTW, love your blog design.

Sherry Soule Official Website

Author of the Spellbound Series

Mandroid said...

As to your first question, it always struck me as Loki and Wednesday instilled a paranoid riot mentality on the side of the older gods. They feared for their own existence and were convinced they had to kill the newer gods to survive. The newer gods were all portrayed as brash and irrational, so they were just gearing up for any fight, especially one that would destroy their "elders". On the side of the older gods, it could have also been a strange sense of loyalty or an eons-long favor being called in under certain circumstances.

I didn't feel as though Shadow just figured out Wednesday's plan out of the blue. I think it just took a while for all the pieces to come together in his head. Once he figured out Low-Key's true identity, it started making more sense. Some assumptions were made, of course, but throughout the entire story, there are lots of small and large clues as to how the book will end and who all the players really are. I picked up on them way more on my second (and third) read throughs.

Or perhaps I'm just a giant Neil Gaiman apologist. I've been accused of worse. Big battles as plot conclusions are overrated anyway.

I'm personally fond of how you think the book is over, but then Gaiman comes back and reveals the explanation behind mysteries from hundreds of pages before that I'd forgotten about.

Hey Lady! said...

Mandroid- I agree about the revelations at the end. I love the stuff with the missing kids in the small town.

I think a lot of it is the book being less about the Gods as these powerful creatures. And I really wanted to know how the Gods "died". After time has passed I'm over the "no battle" at the end (honestly, I think because we read "Good Omens" a few months before this, and then there was no big "pay off" at the end of this book either, we were sort of jaded, though "American Gods" was MUCH better then "Good Omens" in my opinion). The book is clever, the writing is great. I liked the journey.
We've been getting more Gaiman fans coming to book club, hopefully we'll be able to get the book club to read another of Gaiman's books!