on July 6, 2011
There are so many reviews of the old book I won't spend much time doing that here. It is a modern day masterpiece. One that will be remembered for a long time.
What I would like to address is which edition you should purchase. If you already own American Gods then there is almost nothing new to be found here. There is just a small amount of new content. You should at least read his introduction to this edition. So if you have never purchased this book before then this is the best looking and most complete version available.
Bottom line is don't double dip but if this is your first copy you owe it to yourself to get this edition.
Released from prison shortly after the accidental death of his wife, ex-con Shadow finds himself free, but bereft of all the things that gave his previous life meaning. As he bids his farewell to the fragments of that life, an eerie stranger named Mr. Wednesday offers him employment. Wednesday needs someone to act as aid, driver, errand boy, and, in case of Wednesday's death, someone to hold a vigil for him. Shadow consents and finds himself drawn unsuspectingly into a cryptic reality where myth and legend coexist with today's realities.
Mr. Wednesday, trickster and wise man, is on a quest. The old gods who came over to this country with each human incursion have weakened as their followers have dwindled and are now threatened with extinction by the modern gods of technology and marketing. Wednesday travels from deity to deity, rounding up help for what will be last battle. He engages ancient Russian gods, Norse legends, Egyptian deities, and countless others who have found their way to America in the past 10,000 or so years. Shadow never quite understands what his role is in all of this, but he experiences visions and dreams which promise that he is far more than Wednesday's factotum.
The plot is unendingly inventive as it treks its way across the country. From Chicago to Rhode Island, and Seattle to the magical town of Lakeside, Shadow's journey seems to follow the back roads of America. The people he meets are gritty, and the gods are even grittier. Gaiman creates believable characters with quick brush strokes and builds vivid landscapes that belie their mundane origins. Gaiman, recently moved to the U.S. has invited us along on his own quest to discover an America uniquely his own.
This is a novel that resonates at many levels, it is Shadow's initiation quest, Gaiman's search for the American identity, a revisionist Twilight of the Gods, and last, but not least a captivating piece of fiction. The gods that people this story came with people who found their way to this country from almost every time and place. Gaiman has put his finger on once of this country's greatest truths. Every person who ever lived here has roots from somewhere else. We have crossed oceans and land bridges, on foot, and by every other means of transportation. Our culture has been created whole cloth out of the character and beliefs of all those people. Gaiman has managed to capture a bit of that vision and put it on display for the reader.
After his superb work in "Neverwhere," "Stardust," and the Sandman graphic novels, Neil Gaimon has established himself a force to be reckoned with in the crossover horror/fantasy genre. Now with his new novel Gaiman establishes his mastery in a remarkable story of quest and transformation as he comes to terms with his own vision of America. "American Gods" defies classification and invites superlatives. This is one of 2001's must reads.
on January 10, 2005
The three star rating that I have given to American Gods is reflective of the ambivalence I feel toward it. I enjoyed reading it, and found it a real page-turner. The concept was fascinating and the mythological elements were interesting and clever in their American guises. So what's the problem? It is akin to the old chestnut about eating Chinese food - after devouring 600 plus pages of Mr. Gaiman's novel I found that I was still hungry, still unsatisfied despite the tastiness of Gaiman's talent.
The problem is that I was expecting an epic. The book's subject matter, length, awards, and reviews all scream epic. I was expecting something deep, meaningful, and memorable. Gaiman's writing talent teased me nearly all the way through that this was indeed what I was reading, yet it never quite delivered. Instead of a memorable epic, what I finally discovered in American Gods was a well-written and enjoyable pulp novel that felt much closer to a particularly well done Stephen King story than it did to an important mythological epic.
I did enjoy reading American Gods. Neil Gaiman is a talented writer, and if you are a fan, you will probably want to read it as well. But be warned to limit your expectations. Despite its length and hype, this book is not an epic, mythic or otherwise. File this one on your bookshelf beside King's The Stand rather than putting it beside Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, or Jung.
This is a bad land for Gods...The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.
Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that "a storm is coming." There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.
That's the premise of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and it's just crackling with promise! But unfortunately, that's not really what this novel is about. It's what the novel keeps telling us it's about (and what many critics told us it was about), but it doesn't deliver.
Yes, there are plenty of gods, myths, and legends, and Gaiman does great things with some of them (e.g., Ibis the undertaker and Mr. Nancy) but most are never developed and a reader who has not read an encyclopedia of folklore probably won't catch all the clever allusions.
Yes, there's Neil Gaiman's characteristic style, which I always enjoy. His prose is clean, unvarnished, and exquisite. His characters are recognizable; His America is recognizable. In fact, this was the best part of the book (and what Gaiman does so well) -- Shadow's roadtrip across the United States gave Gaiman plenty of opportunities to showcase his humorous insights into the human condition and, in this case, small-town American life. This was lovely, and I enjoyed these parts of the book.
The problem with American Gods was that the plot, meandering this way and that across the continent, never solidified. Shadow goes to this American town, meets a few gods and legends, goes to this other place, meets a couple more... There are numerous short stories detailing the lives of these gods and the people who worshipped them, so we expect to see some of these folks again (perhaps at this coming battle), but we don't. A few weird mystical things happen to Shadow and we anticipate an explanation for those occurrences. Then there's a sub-plot involving Shadow's undead wife who asks Shadow to bring her back to life.
I don't want to ruin it for anybody, but let me say that the "storm" we're promised doesn't materialize. Every time there's a conflict, or a tight spot, someone suddenly shows up and, knowingly or unknowingly, takes care of it. Shadow (and his dead wife) figure out what the bad guys are going to do before they do it. Characters who we hoped might play a bigger role, and events that seemed to be significant, just fade away. The whole thing kind of fizzles. The plot twists at the end aren't clever or inventive -- they just seem to be there to fit the role of "obligatory plot twist."
The premise of American Gods has so much promise. I was anticipating some poignant social commentary on America and our habits of worship. After all, American Gods is a best-selling award-winning novel and I expect great things from Neil Gaiman. But it didn't happen this time and I really can't explain the critical acclaim for this novel.
on January 24, 2002
I know I am going to get railed with a 2 out of 133 or something for my unpopular opinon, but I think that Gaiman's novel was high on concept and potential but never took off.
I find all kinds of mythology interesting, and that is exactly what made me purchase this book and I think Gaiman did a good job of incorporating competeing mythologies into the novel. However, and I know that this is not the most eloquent way to put it, but the book just didn't do it for me. It really just felt like an airport book of the week, like Sidney Sheldon's "Doomsday Conspiracy" which took an interesting topic (at the time) and made an episode of All My Children out of it.
I think what it came down to for me was that I never beleived in any of the characters, especially Shadow, and I saw the twists coming from a mile away. I hate saying that, but it is true, the story was transparent.
I am not an avid fantasy reader, though I dabble in Sci Fi, so take that into account with my review, but over all, I was just waiting for a bang that never came.
on June 20, 2001
After waiting several years for Neil's new book, I hungrily devoured the 400+ page "American Gods" in just over two days. The story follows Shadow Moon, recently released from prison, as he comes to work for a man simply known as Wednesday. Wednesday is a peculiar old man with a frightening knowledge of Shadow's past and an amazing talent of swindling people who introduces Shadow to many fascinating characters, who it is later learned, are all transplanted Gods endeavoring to hold on to life all across America.
Gaiman explores the sacred power hidden in the kitschy roadside attractions doting the landscape of America's many back roads; their once glorious power waning as people worship more modern cultural icons and ideas. The sprawling story pits the forgotten gods America's immigrated citizens brought with them to the new land against the high-tech gods of modern living in a war for the very right to be worshipped. Shadow is pulled headfirst into the dispute and ends up playing a crucial role in the upcoming battle. The meanings of life and death, self-worth, spiritual beliefs, and redemption are all explored with Gaiman's witty intelligence.
Gaiman's ability to entwine multiple plot lines with clever cultural critiques while maintaining fantastic character descriptions and an engaging narrative solidifies the fantasy/horror author's place as one of the world's best storytellers. Much more than a magical tale of combating Gods, Gaiman paints a picture of a melting pot left too long to boil, and a country who worships the next big thing a bit too easily and with little consideration for it's ancestry.
Definitely worth buying, and undeniably worth reading (all though you might want to slow down a bit more than I did!). And while you're at it - check out "Stardust" and "Neverwhere", you won't be disappointed.
on July 26, 2002
You have to be a certain type of reader to enjoy this Gaiman work. I have only read one other of his, "Neverwhere" and I recommend that one highly! But this one has soooo many twists and turns, you feel like you are a rat in a giant maze.
The main character, Shadow, lacks depth, and Gaiman segways into so many side stories in order to bring the plot together-you tend to feel like, "Gee, is this ever going to get to the point?" Overall, I would've rated this higher, but I just didn't enjoy it as much as "Neverwhere", the plot is very slow and runs into so many walls, you get a headache reading it! Not to discount Mr. Gaiman's writting skills, he is superb at his craft, but I just couldn't get into this one, and had to force myself to finish it. You can try this one if you want, but I would suggest getting it from a friend or the library. But, if you want to read some better work by the author, get "Neverwhere", it is a much better read that moves a lot quicker.
on July 1, 2002
Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" is a skewed, surreal and ultimately disappointing revival of the American Road Trip novel. Gaiman's writing is evocative enough to drag the reader from chapter to chapter, and he builds tension nicely, promising the reader a finale that will not only explain the thin-as-dishwater plot, but also resolve the dangling plot points he scatters along the way. In the end, Gaiman seems in a hurry to close the book, and rushes through conclusions quickly, dismissing a few as he goes.
The author does a nice job of introducing the "gods" of old into the modern American scene, but fails miserably to give any characterization to the "new" gods, and that comes off as a complete injustice to the reader. After all, the story is building to a climatic battle between the two forces, and yet the reader is not allowed a clear view of the purpose or intent of the "new" gods.
Some will find this novel brilliantly plotted and clever. I found it thin, weak in characterization, and lacking a satisfying conclusion. I skimmed the last 75 pages to finish book, and regret the impulse buy that made me pick it up in the first place.
on September 23, 2001
I have read all of Gaiman's novels, as well as the Sandman graphic novels. I'm a fan of urban fantasy, and, needless to say, I'm a fan of Gaiman's work. I was especially anxious to read American Gods because a good portion of the story takes place in my home state, Wisconsin (home of snow, ice and Culver's custard.) I was not, generally speaking, disapppointed. American Gods has everything I like about Gaiman's stories.
The story opens with Shadow, the protagonist, being released from prison a week early to attend his wife's funeral. Shadow is a big man, strong in both stature and integrity. On his way home, he meets Mr. Wednesday, who offers Shadow a job as bodyguard. The pair travels the American heartland, drumming up support for a coming spiritual war. Along the way they meet a host of unlikely characters, includ and thugs with names like Mr. Town, Mr. Street, Mr. Woods and Mr. World. And not least among this cast of extremely interesting characters is Laura, Shadow's deceased wife who spends most of the book bailing Shadow out of tight situations. And rotting.
I docked the book 1 star because, in my opinion, the ending fizzled. Also, interspersed through the book were short stories that were removed from the main storyline. These were a nice break between chapters, and offered insight to 'the coming war' in other parts of the nation. For some reason, these stories stopped about 1/3 of the way through the book, and I sort of missed them.
In summary, I think that American Gods was a far stronger effort than the last book of his I read, Stardust, but not as good as Neverwhere, or Sandman.
on July 5, 2002
Gaiman is an intriguing talent. While the ideas which drive his writing remain inventive and interesting, his ability to capitalize on these ideas is lacking. This results in books which appear interesting in brief plot reviews and back covers, but are unsatisfying when read as books. American Gods suffers from poor characterizations, bad dialogue, and ideas which are never explored past the superficiality of the back cover. Indeed, the main plot consists mainly of creating a world which could be fairly interesting, but then spending the latter half of the book destroying it with slapdash plotting. The poor plotting makes it seem as though Gaiman was merely trying to get the book out on time by throwing things into the book and resolving any problems by deus ex machina. On the other hand, I found one of the subplots to be fairly compelling. In all, though American Gods is full of ideas which could be interesting if explored, this book never reaches its potential.