Monday, May 23, 2011

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only started reading Neil Gaiman a short while ago. I knew of him, but mostly the Sandman works, and, really, comic books, er, graphic novels haven't been my thing for a long time. But everyone talked about how GOOD he is. Then I found myself with a copy of Stardust on my to-read shelf. I enjoyed it. (No, I have not seeen the movie.) Since he is coming to my area in June to do a talk on American Gods, and I plan on going, I decided I probably should read it. And I am very glad I did!

(There may be some minor spoilers in the following, so if you have not read, and do not like knowing, you may want to skip. Fair warning.)

"This is not a good country for gods." I think that quote, which appears in several places in the book in various forms, pretty much says it all. The story involves gods, ancient and new, in America. The old gods, who are drawn from many mythologies, are faded, almost caricatures of their former powerful selves. The new gods, born of the modern world's love of technology, are rising. They are all gearing up for a final battle for control. Or so it seems.

But the story really is about Shadow, who is not a god. He just works for one of them, although he doesn't, at first, realize what he is getting into. It's a coming of age story, even though Shadow is something like thirty-two in the book. It's a road trip story, on several levels. Shadow criss-crosses the continent several times during the course of the story. It is also a "road trip" through his inner self, where he finds as much that is surprising as there is that he already knew.

There are little vignettes starting many of the chapters. Some of them expand the stories of some of the gods. Some of them delve into the character and development of America, as much in explanation of why this is not a good country for gods, as why perhaps we need them. Some found these distracting. I did not. I felt they added a lot to the overall sense of the story.

The story doesn't end where and when you think it will. Many find the ending unresolved or lacking. And perhaps if you read with the anticipation of the Most-Epic-Battle-Ever, it is. For me, it was an excellent ending, if not what I expected.

I guess some of the reason I liked this as much as I did is that I have always been fascinated with mythology and ancient gods. American Gods draws on much of what I have read about for years, and adds to it. It also brings some fresh ideas about how gods are formed and kept alive, and brings a modern interpretation to all that. There were some things I was able to figure out based on what I knew, but plenty of surprises, also.

I also find Mr. Gaiman exceptionally easy to read. Not that this is a simple story. It is not. But his writing style flows very well and makes for comfortable reading.

All in all, I recommend this book highly, with a couple warnings. There is some "bad" language and explicit sex, as well as some violence. If those are not to your taste, this is probably not the book for you. If you can tolerate the above, it is a wonderful read.

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