(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin)
Okay, I just want to point out before I start this one that I was planning on reading it before the mini-series was announced, and it was only just two weeks ago that I was able to make it to a bookstore to pick it up.
Anyway, here we go on my first book review:
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Premise: A recently released convict finds himself out of a job until an enigmatic old man offers him a position as his driver, bodyguard, and right-hand man. But working for Mr. Wednesday has all sorts of strange implications and consequences.
So, this was my first Gaiman novel (unless you count Good Omens, which I don’t). It was an interesting blend – at times it was almost a biopic of the continental United States and that small-town America vibe, and at others it was this nearly overwhelming mythological tale involving every pantheon you’ve never heard of.
I came into reading it as someone who knows very little about mythology, and isn’t the biggest fan of small-town America, so I wasn’t really sure what to think when I picked it up. It was recommended by a friend, but she warned me it was paced kind of slow – another red flag for me, as someone who’s never been able to finish Great Expectations and took three tries to read Dune all the way through.
That being said, I thought it was pretty damn good.
In terms of characters, you don’t have to know any gods to get an immediate sense of who all these people are. Their dialogue and accents feel perfectly genuine; their interactions run everywhere from engaging to gripping and intense; and they always act the way you expect them to. In a novel where a lot of the main plot is hidden and you’re always a little confused about something, the dialogue is a great constant to come back to – it feels like old friends talking.
The main character, Shadow, is a depressing dude. If you’re not down for dark novels, you’d better watch out for this one, because it had me gripped by the balls of my soul the whole time. (Yeah, I just said that.) You find yourself really resonating with his struggle, even though you don’t really know what that struggle is, and it’s interesting that the protagonist of the novel always seems to be playing second fiddle to literally everyone he interacts with.
It’s almost as if you, as a reader through Shadow’s perspective, are just observing the events of the book, until those great few moments where Shadow decides to have some agency and do something cool. A very strange read, but completely enjoyable for it.
I actually found it most interesting as an encapsulation of middle America, and that way that most people view America. Having lived my entire life in California, I thought it was really interesting to see, to feel, how middle America lives, thinks, and breathes. I feel like this would be especially interesting to non-Americans who want to immerse themselves in our culture.
Downsides? There were a few. It’s written excellently, but there is a pretty large chunk in the middle that moves very slowly. You’re still interested in what could happen because that’s how good the writing is, but you kind of want things to move on. (Of course, I read the anniversary edition which has a few thousand more words in, so maybe that was it.) And I did feel like some of the events of the ending were kind of anti-climactic – I won’t give any spoilers, but for a character like Shadow where you’re waiting for them to have some powerful sense of agency, the final moment where he does something, I wanted to feel like it was a little more.
Overall? I think it’s something you should pick up, especially if you’re interested in American culture or mythology, or just somber, dark stories.
Reed’s Rating: 8.5/10
Yours, preparing to read some small-press fantasy novels next,