Cover of American Gods: A Novel
Neil Gaiman wrote American Gods ten years ago. The book has become something of a classic and has been newly published in a Tenth Anniversary Edition featuring the author’s preferred text. This is a Brit writing about America, which, in this case, probably gives the perspective needed to write such a story. Gaiman imagines all the immigrants who came to America from everywhere and who brought all of their gods with them. The gods have fallen on hard times in America. No one makes blood sacrifices to them anymore, or builds altars, or leaves food and other tokens. They remember the gods, they just don’t worship them. America, says the book’s main character, is not fertile ground for gods.
So we meet Mr. Wednesday (who is Odin) and Low Key (Loki) and all the old world gods now living rather sad and sleazy lives in America. We meet Whiskey Jack and the Buffalo Man, Jacquel and Ibis, Czernobog, and several trios of portentous ladies, young and old. If I list all the gods you will not have any fun discoveries to make.
Mr. Wednesday enlists the services of an ex-con named Shadow to be his driver, errand boy, and personal assistant. Shadow connects us common mortals to the gods and it will be his assignment to “rescue” us from the gods.
The old world gods are headed towards a battle with new world gods like Mr. Wood, Mr. Stone, Mr. Town, Mr. World, the Fat Techno Boy and Media. Mr. Wednesday tells us, over and over, that “a storm is coming.”
Who thinks of this stuff? Neil Gaiman for one and it is very entertaining stuff as these “characters” lark about America causing trouble and chaos and death wherever they go. We are enlisted in their cause. After all, they are just trying to stay “alive,” and they are sort of charming.
Just before Shadow left prison his wife Laura was killed in a car accident while doing one of the “nasties” in a car driven by Shadow’s best friend. Laura visits Shadow and gives her reasons for being unfaithful and tells Shadow that it is him she loves. She sends Shadow on a separate quest to find out how to bring her back to life, but of course, I can’t tell you how that ends either.
I will remember this book well for quite a while and will still be pondering the meaning. It reminds me of two things. One thing it reminds me of is John Barth’s book, Giles Goat Boy with its juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. Another is of something we used to say when we were hippies. There was a counterculture comic book character called Mr. Natural. When anyone asked Mr. Natural “what is the meaning of life,” he answered, rather cynically, “it don’t mean sh_t, except this book is a little deeper than Mr. Natural and the answer is not quite so pat. Enjoy!
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