“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

American Gods was my pick for the discussion group I’ve started on novels with themes of myth and religion. I’d been thinking about it before I became aware that its 10th anniversary was pending, that Neil Gaiman was going to appear as part of the Wits series at the Fitzgerald, and that it had been picked up by Tom Hanks’ production company as a series for HBO. It soon became clean that a July American Gods synchronicity was going on. I hadn’t read the book since it was released in 2001; I read it before September of that year, when the term American suddenly became more complex and problematic. I was more than ready for a re-reading.

The novel is an answer to a question Gaiman puts up front in the introductory epigraph:

One that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands.” (Richard Dorson, “A Theory for American Folklore”)

The main character, and the everyday person the reader is supposed to use as the lens into the world Gaiman has created, is Shadow, a man serving time for a crime never detailed. Shadow is less an everyman, though, and more a traditional noir hero, a hapless, goodish guy who is at the mercy of various femme fatales and manipulative bosses. Part of the novel is a travelogue through some of the weirder tourist spots of the U.S., like the House on the Rock and Rock City. There’s also a substory set in Lakeside, an idyllic Wisconsin town.

This is involving, intriguing stuff, though I found it sometimes too sprawling especially in the war of the gods storyline. I liked much better the interactions of Shadow with other mortals, and with mortal incarnations of various gods and legends. Here, an interview with Gaiman by John Moe that took place recently at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

While there wasn’t universal love for the book at the recent discussion of it for my book group, yet it did generate a fascinating and deep conversation, so I think it was a very good pick.

2 Responses to ““American Gods” by Neil Gaiman”

  1. Steph Says:

    The ebranch of my local library has started to stock some of Gaiman’s titles, this being one of them (apparently the version I checked out was the 10th Anniversary Edition, no less!), which greatly pleases me. I’ve had mixed success with Gaiman in the past, so I feel like the library is the perfect way for me to experience his books as the risk is relatively low even if I shouldn’t like them. This one has always sounded really intriguing to me, so I’m excited to give it a whirl.

  2. girldetective Says:

    I’d be wary of the 10th anniversary edition; it’s the author’s preferred text, with 12K more words, and Gaiman to me is like Steven King–a good storyteller whose prose needs a strong editor and whose fame gets in the way of that.