In between reading about Watchmen’s philosophy, recovering from bread-cheese-meat-cookie-wine holiday nirvana, drinking more wine, and learning how to become a handyman through the trials and tribulations of room renovation, I decided to read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. For reasons I can’t really justify (forgetting it at my grandparents, putting it in a “safe place,” restarting it twice, laziness), this book took me a long time to read, and it isn’t because it’s a bad book—in fact, the book is damn amazing, and has my seal of approval.
Plot in a nutshell: An ex-con named Shadow is hired by a mysterious old dude named Mr. Wednesday after he’s released from prison and becomes privy to the information that his wife died in a car crash with his buddy’s lower horn in her mouth. Mr. Wednesday (aka Odin aka the All-Father) tells Shadow that his job is to protect him, not ask questions, run errands, be a chauffeur and, when the situation calls for it, to hurt people who need to be hurt. Mr. W is losing his powers because the New Gods (Highways, Technology, etc) are the only thing Americans believe in, so he’s becoming weaker, as are all Old Gods—and that’s just not going to fly. When Shadow is like “well, ok, sure,” Mr. W is stoked and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
Admittedly, when I first started reading this book, I was hesitant. Despite my utter and deep adoration of fairy tales and folklore, I had a lot of mixed feelings about an ex-con meeting a bunch of mythological Gods and helping them escape from obscurity. I mean, with a name like Shadow, I was expecting some sort of weird, vague and defiling fanfiction revolving around Sonic the Hedgehog. What I received was something much better than Shadow doing unspeakable things to fellow animals and followed a tale of personal growth, self-realization, an in-depth analysis of modern consumption, and a sprinkle of what defines an “American God.”
This novel takes the melting pot theme of the United States of America and amplifies it times infinity and beyond. It is an amazing account of a mixture of cultures and an investigation of just how those cultural influence hold up to the test of time. Those gods who survived (such as Easter, luckily embraced by Hallmark–though, unfortunately, Noël was nowhere to be found) lived in the lap of luxury, while others became gas station attendants, morticians, or even con artists, but as long as they had the occasional thought or still recalled the blood that was shed in their honor, they survived and found strength. Old gods fighting against new gods, infidelity, brutal murder, bull-headed men and dead wives, and the more the story proceeds, the grander and more sensational it becomes.
The best part? While you’re reading about Norse Gods, Irish Gods, Egyptian Gods, Indian Gods, Hindu Gods, the Gods of Technology, the Gods of Media, and Gods from everywhere else you can think of, Gaiman is setting you up for one of the biggest “no fucking way” twists that I have read in recent years. Seriously, after I finished the book, twist and all, I flipped through the whole book again to see if I missed the signs (I did) and if there was anything else that I missed (probably). The world created by Gaiman is so in-depth and detail-oriented that these little moments are just thought of as quirks of his style, which made it even better that they led you to such a shocking revelation. I’m starting to repeat myself, but it was seriously that good.
I can’t praise this novel enough and everyone should read it!
Agree/disagree? Let me know below!