Jeff's Reviews > American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Aug 09, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, science-fiction
Recommended to Jeff by: Jenni
Recommended for: folks who like novels, especially dreamquesters &/or myth lovers
Read from November 20 to 25, 2011

A simplistic plot summary: Shadow's 6-year prison sentence for assault ends earlier than expected with the delivery of terrible news. The more he learns, the worse the news gets. On his way home he agrees to work for Mr Wednesday as a gopher / bodyguard / chauffeur / dogsbody. Together they travel throughout America enlisting allies in the impending war among the gods. Meanwhile Shadow's inner and outer lives become increasingly complicated. Should he "believe everything" as one of his dreams suggests? Of all the strange experiences and characters, what is mundanely real, what is metaphysically True, who's a god, who is merely human? If he were a character in a book, one would say the author is trying everything possible to compel Shadow to grow. Will Shadow's innate complacence be a sufficiently immovable object to resist the plot's irresistible force?

My favorite parts of the first 400+ pages were Shadow's dreams and the irregular, apparently digressive appendices at the ends of chapters (subtitled "Coming to America" and "Somewhere in America" etc.). His dreams provided much desired insight into his otherwise unrevealed inner life and they're intriguing as dreams—unlike my personal experience of dreams, they're much more coherent and internally consistent and (most of all) they're way more accurately predictive. The ostensibly add-on subchapters contained (for me) much needed emotionally connective scenes even though their main characters played almost no roles at all in the main plot.

As i finished chapter 17 i felt compelled to note that a large portion of my slight dissatisfaction (to that point) came from unnecessary obscurities, such as when the omniscient narrator essentially becomes blind / deaf / dumb or is simply unwilling to provide crucial details of a scene (e.g., a character's name) with no justification other than to maintain or create suspense. And then chapter 18 begins with an unpredictable breaking of the 4th wall. From then onward, i felt a change in the relationships between me and book / narrator / characters / author.

The interview with Neil Gaiman at the back of my paperback edition might have been the final boost needed to increase my rating from 3 to 4 stars. Or it might've just been that the ending pulled everything together in a very satisfying way for me. My experience was much the same as with The Good Soldier: for the majority of the dispassionate narrator's description of the wild events in the life of an extremely private (Gaiman's interview descriptor), disconnected (my word) protagonist, i felt the book intentionally keeping me at more than arm's length and i feared we would make no psychic or emotional connection.

Even though the main plot resolved with Happy Daysesque magic words (speechifying), there was something accurate in it for me. I won't go as far as Michael Chabon to say it was "nourishing to the soul," but i felt emotional import and valuable insight in the main character's quest for the meaning of life.

Some Other Thoughts
I was a bit disappointed in myself for missing The Main Twist but somewhat self-satisfied about figuring out a few of the smaller ones. If i'd known The Main one, i might've enjoyed the storyline less. So ... maybe the obscurities i'd disliked were necessary(?) for me(?).

Caveat: I'm not a parent.
If you know a Percy Jackson and the Olympians fan and you feel s/he is mature enough for "adult language" and "adult situations," you might recommend or get this book for her/him. I'd guess anyone 16 or older. The younger the reader, the more i recommend an adult co-reader to facilitate discussion and explanation.

Warning: this book is as secular as a book "about the gods" can be; i doubt that you will be getting any spiritual insights.

Warning: if you're looking for investigations of religious beliefs, especially of the world's most popular religions, you'll have to look elsewhere. Gaiman wisely (in my estimation) sticks with lesser known gods and icons and heroes.

Final Warning: if you are rigidly monotheistic, you'll probably feel that this book is sacrilegious. In America you have the right to petition to have it removed from your local libraries, burn it publicly, or otherwise advocate censorship, but don't expect any of those activities to diminish the book's popularity or to increase yours. Cheers.

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Reading Progress

11/21 page 192
32.0% "As expected, this is a lot like an adult(sized) version of Percy Jackson. For that reason alone, it's more enjoyable. I might be underselling it, but let's wait and see."
11/22 page 275
46.0% "Still ticking along at a quick pace."
11/24 page 469
79.0% "I guess the storm has begun. And i think i am about to find out what Shadow Is."
08/09 marked as: read
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