“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.” (pg. 394)
This quote captures the essence of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. A tale of myth and mankind woven together in a compelling narrative, Gaiman is able to take the seeds from a fantastical subject and plant them firmly and believably in a realistic setting.
The story follows a man who calls himself Shadow. Without delving too deep into the plot and ruining any surprises, I can tell you that Shadow sees himself as a rational and skeptical person. He meets a man named Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious stranger who convinces Shadow to work for him; from there on Gaiman directs Shadow’s journey into a world where his prior beliefs (or lack thereof) are called into question. Gaiman is careful not to play with Shadow’s sanity, for in doing so would leave the reader wondering if it’s really only inside his head. Instead, the story stays within a realm of realism, as much so as any story about gods can attempt.
Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, mixing the over-arching plot with multiple subplots to keep us intrigued and wondering what he is building up to. This novel blends together mythological history and legend with Gaiman’s own modern creations (the god of the Television was a particular favorite character of mine), and anchors this fantasy to Shadow’s own journey. We learn about the gods as he learns about them, with only a few instances where the reader is treated to a “historical account” – these breaks from the overall narrative help explain Gaiman’s alternate American mythological history. To briefly summarize: as people settled in America they brought with them the gods of their homeland, and over time the country became a smorgasbord of different cultural deities. How the gods themselves adapted to the new lands, I leave for you to discover.
One of the more fascinating themes in the novel dealt with mankind’s necessity to worship a higher power. As our culture advanced forward, the established gods of old are replaced with the gods of the Railroad, of the Internet, and so on. You can bet that there is no love lost between the two factions – Shadow is thrown into a war he never even knew was taking place, between the old gods and the new.
Gaiman smoothly leads us along his tale of the gods, and never loses sight of the human element. Shadow is never meant to represent humanity as a whole (because really, no single character could encompass the entirety of mankind), but he is one of the more realistic characters I’ve encountered. Gaiman lets us witness Shadow’s highs and lows, his thoughts and insights; whenever Shadow is deceived, we are deceived as well. The minor characters peppered throughout are not static archetypes, but dynamic individuals, and this helps create a more entertaining read.
Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide how much they want to take away from the story. If you are looking for a way to debate mythological “fact”, this is probably not the best avenue to take – Gaiman turns the gods into his own characters, and we have to take that in stride with the rest of the book. However, if you’re just looking for a fantastic fictional work, you can’t go wrong with a man whom Stephen King believes “we are lucky to have”. (taken from back cover of my book)
PLOT – 13/13
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – 12/13
WRITING QUALITY – 12/13
RE-READABILITY – 11/13
MORE AMERICAN GODS NEWS
For fans of the book, I know you must be as excited as I am for the upcoming HBO series based on the novel. Normally when I read novels I try and picture how they’d be adapted to the screen; when I read American Gods I was concerned that it wouldn’t be the same as a film, mainly due to time restraints. As a six-season HBO series it can not only transcend the time problem, but content restrictions as well. An edited-for-TV rendition would not capture the gritty essence of the novel, in my opinion. As far as actors go, a cast listing has not been released. I am hesitant to try and pigeonhole anyone for the roles, as I thoroughly enjoy the experience of a breakthrough role for actors/actresses. But if I had to choose the two main characters, I would pick Tom Hardy for Shadow. Mr. Wednesday is a bit more difficult for me to decide on – I keep picturing Harvey Keitel’s face, but I don’t think he quite fits the role in other ways (mainly his voice). Gary Oldman definitely has the chops to fiercely attack such a character (think of his work in Leon: The Professional and True Romance), but his physical build is a concern. And if only Jack Nicholson were a bit younger. No, I’m going to go out on a limb and choose Rade Serbedzija – for those of you who have seen Snatch, he played Boris the Blade.
It also recently came to my attention that Gaiman is working on a new novel that will essentially be American Gods 2. I am wary about this, but if he decides to use a new main character I will be more at ease (or even focusing on the Sam character from the first novel – she’s a potential goldmine). Wikipedia states that it will likely focus on the New Gods, which is also fine by me.