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American Gods

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

It's been over a week since I finished this book, but I've had difficulty with the review because I am afraid that I might be guilty of over-praising it, and even then still not do it justice. American Gods is a recent winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and while I am of the opinion that at least the Hugo should retain the flavor of it's official name (the Science Fiction Achievement Awards), in this instance I have no problem with the recognition this novel has received. It is the first of Gaiman's work that I have read, but he is definitely one I want to experience more of in the future. This is an "urban fantasy," a type I am more drawn to than the more prevalent heroic, or "high," fantasy, but I think it actually has more in common with Homer's epic poems than anything else.

The basic premise of the book is that all of the ancient gods of Europe, Asia and Africa have migrated to America to follow the path of the mundane emigrants to this country, and yet they find that even here they have been forgotten and abandoned by the peoples who had once worshipped them and sacrificed to them. In their place have come the new American gods, those who hold sway over the more popular aspects of our culture; television, the internet, credit cards and shopping malls. A storm is brewing which threatens to culminate in a war between these two groups of gods. A recently released ex-con known as Shadow (I can't recall right now if we ever learned his real name) is recruited by one of the leaders of the ancient gods to help them in their cause. The reason he is selected is left unanswered for a long time, even though that secret was revealed sooner than I expected (about 100 pages from the end).

One problem with reviews is treading that fine line between relating what you like about a book and at the same time not revealing too many plot elements which might spoil it for others. While I was reading I got the impression that the story might have started out as a much shorter and simpler tale, and then later Gaiman thought of some ways to stretch it out with various subplots. But after I finished I looked back at it and decided all those subplots and sidetrips played an intricate and integral part in building up the main character of Shadow, as well as revealing how each of those elements related to each other. I also think it will take at least another read through (if not more) to fully understand all the nuances and what they might mean symbolically. I am convinced that it must be read with the understanding that everything is there for a purpose, each character and each setting has a deeper meaning than just what is on the surface.

It is also written in a very visual style, and even from the first few chapters I knew that this was a story I would love to see adapted to the screen. While I have not decided who might be best to portray Shadow, my pick to play his wife Laura would be Linda Fiorentino, and Barry Corbin would make an ideal Wednesday, who is the god who recruits Shadow, and who happens to be the Norse god Odin.

All in all, this is a book I can highly recommend, and with apologies to E. E. Knight, but this is now the best book I have read in several years. And if anyone would like to suggest the next Gaiman book I should be looking for I will be appreciative.

[UPDATE] - Originally announced for HBO, a TV miniseries adaptation of American Gods is now being produced for the STARZ cable channel. One of the executive producers, and co-showrunner, is Bryan Fuller, and supposedly Gaiman will be writing a few episodes himself. No details about casting or when the show might premiere have been announced yet. I've changed my mind about who should play Wednesday. I submit to you Mads Mikkelsen. Not only is he Scandanavian, the character would also be immortal so age is not a factor, plus his recent experience on Fuller's Hannibal probably has him high on Bryan's list.

 

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Author
Neil Gaiman

Published
2000

Awards
Hugo, Nebula & Bram Stoker

Available from amazon.com