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American Gods Hardcover – June 19, 2001
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American Gods is Neil Gaiman's best and most ambitious novel yet, a scary, strange, and hallucinogenic road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American spirit. Gaiman tackles everything from the onslaught of the information age to the meaning of death, but he doesn't sacrifice the razor-sharp plotting and narrative style he's been delivering since his Sandman days.
Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow's dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost--the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.
Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow's road story is the heart of the novel, and it's here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. "This is a bad land for Gods," says Shadow.
More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what's real and what's not. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Titans clash, but with more fuss than fury in this fantasy demi-epic from the author of Neverwhere. The intriguing premise of Gaiman's tale is that the gods of European yore, who came to North America with their immigrant believers, are squaring off for a rumble with new indigenous deities: "gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon." They all walk around in mufti, disguised as ordinary people, which causes no end of trouble for 32-year-old protagonist Shadow Moon, who can't turn around without bumping into a minor divinity. Released from prison the day after his beloved wife dies in a car accident, Shadow takes a job as emissary for Mr. Wednesday, avatar of the Norse god Grimnir, unaware that his boss's recruiting trip across the American heartland will subject him to repeat visits from the reanimated corpse of his dead wife and brutal roughing up by the goons of Wednesday's adversary, Mr. World. At last Shadow must reevaluate his own deeply held beliefs in order to determine his crucial role in the final showdown. Gaiman tries to keep the magical and the mundane evenly balanced, but he is clearly more interested in the activities of his human protagonists: Shadow's poignant personal moments and the tale's affectionate slices of smalltown life are much better developed than the aimless plot, which bounces Shadow from one episodic encounter to another in a design only the gods seem to know. Mere mortal readers will enjoy the tale's wit, but puzzle over its strained mythopoeia. (One-day laydown, June 19)Forecast: Even when he isn't in top form, Gaiman, creator of the acclaimed Sandman comics series, trumps many storytellers. Momentously titled, and allotted a dramatic one-day laydown with a 12-city author tour, his latest will appeal to fans and attract mainstream review coverage for better or for worse because of the rich possibilities of its premise.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Look, I see a lot of differing reviews on this book. I think if you are able to listen to the Audible version you would like it better. The many actors bring this far-fetched story alive. The narrators: Ron McLarty, Daniel Oreskes, and full cast (whatever that means) make you see gods, goddesses and dead people and other characters. They help you feel the cold, the pain, smell rot or smoke.
I don't know if I would have liked the book had I just read it without the Audible narration. I think it might have been more meandering and possibly boring. What kept me going was wanting to see what would happen to the main character. And having a bit of interest in other religions and cultures I wanted to see how Neil Gaiman would portray them and the war between them as they were fading into the obscurity of disbelief.
This wasn't my favorite book. It is very male-heavy. Goddesses and women were given little time or depth. BUT I doubt I will forget it and may want to read it again in a few years and see how it affects me then. I highly recommend using the audio version to immerse in this world, which may be America, but a different dimension than where most live.
That said, here goes: it an old idea that you've seen before in a couple of Star Trek episodes and who knows elsewhere: the Greek gods or some other gods (in this case, pretty much all gods, in any pantheon that ever existed) are (or were) real! They derive their power from being worshiped, and only die if they are forgotten.
The twist: believers bring their gods with them when they emigrate. We have old world gods in the new world. New gods don't get along with the old ones, and a conflict ensues.
We follow one individual, Shadow, who isn't himself a god, but who might be employed by one, on journeys to various odd locations in the U.S. which are focal points of power. Not knowing much lore, he nevertheless has to do his best to fulfill his employer's missions, feeling his way through potential dangers and political intrigue.