After way too many years, I have FINALLY finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Now let me explain: I took an awfully long time reading it not because it was bad or in any way deficient, but because it is a book that can be savored. There is a lot in this book. The main story, a few subplots, short stories woven into the overall tale. It is a lot to absorb. What’s most notable, for me at least, is that I started this book over two years ago, and can still remember the beginning as if I started it yesterday.
Summary from GoodReads
A storm is coming…
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way, Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.” -Neil Gaiman, American Gods
As I said earlier, I took a very long time to read this book, but never during my time reading it was I bored with the story or fed up with a character. On the contrary, I often had to stop just so that I could digest what was going on, because of all the subplots and cutaway scenes. The premise is that Gods are created because people worship them. Once they are created they remain on this earth but lose their power as fewer people worship them. At the beginning of the book, the world is at a crossroads between the Old Gods and the New Gods (like the internet and technology and other modern amenities). Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow to be his bodyguard, driver, errand boy, etc. As Shadow travels with Mr. Wednesday he learns that Wednesday is one of the Old Gods. Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the troops, if you will, in order to fight a war with the New Gods.
Shadow Moon is the kind of man that you want to know. Sure he may be an ex-con, but he is honest, loyal and true. Shadow accidentally brings his dead wife, who was cheating on him back to life. He works hard for Mr. Wednesday, even though Mr. Wednesday is clearly keeping Shadow in the dark most of the time. Most of the people Shadow comes into contact with are not who they say they are, and yet, Shadow trusts them and protects them.
I loved the book, as many times as I set it aside, I really and truly loved it. I was often shocked by it. The subplots and additional story lines sometimes made it hard to follow. In the end, though, you realize why those subplots and side stories were important. At first I HATED the Coming to America story lines. However, the more I read, the more I appreciated what they meant. That they weren’t about the people coming to America, but about how the Gods made it to America. I also loved that those stories were actually being written by Mr. Ibis.
The plottwists were expected in that I knew something had to change. That it couldn’t end in the way it was leading, but I did not expect where it ended. I also really didn’t expect the epilogue plot twist. Who has a plot twist in the epilogue? That was weird, but nicely tied up a confusing loose end.
I was fascinated by Laura. She was truly someone I wanted to hate. She cheated on Shadow, while he was serving time, and she called him Puppy, which annoyed the heck out of me. For someone who was kind of shitty, though, she was pretty loyal to Shadow. Maybe it was because he brought her back. Maybe she was just trying to make up for her shittiness, but in the end she did whatever she could to save Shadow.
I loved the places Shadow visited. It was like a roadtrip through America as Shadow and Wednesday met up with other Old Gods. It took me to places, both real and fake, that I would not travel to. I could see a million signs and still not be interested. Now, though, I may just stop to see Rock City.
Truthfully, I’m still trying to sort through some of American Gods. Shadow was the son of the American incarnation of Odin, so he was not, himself, a god. I think, though, because of his heritage, that is how and why Shadow had the dreams that he did. That is how he made it through the tests following his vigil. It is why he was created, because he has these dreams about the buffalo and the thunderbirds which caused the “distraction” Wednesday required. I think, though, the buffalo and thunderbirds were trying to prevent Odin and Loki’s plans, the dreams were the way to warn Shadow.
I still have a million questions, including why is Shadow, not remotely freaked out about all of this. He takes a war between new and old gods like it is an every day, “nothing to see here folks” kind of thing. What is Shadow’s mom’s heritage? Is Shadow Native American? Is that why he has such a connection with Whiskey Jack and the Buffalo Headed Man? Is Shadow Egyptian? Is that why he goes through the Egyptian path of the Afterlife? How did the coin save Shadow’s life twice? Why is America a bad place for gods? Is it because there weren’t gods native to this land, instead we all brought our own and slowly but surely they amalgamate? I HAVE SO MANY MORE QUESTIONS.
“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.” – Zorya Polunochnaya, American Gods
Now if I can just get my hands on the Monarch of the Glenn, I can learn a little more about this crazy world that Gaiman created.
Buy it here: Amazon or Book Depository or B&N
Finally, don’t forget the miniseries airs Sunday nights at 9PM on STARZ.