American Gods (10th Anniversary Ed.) – Neil Gaiman

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Having stumbled upon TOR Books’ Top 10 sci-fi/fantasy book list of the decade, as rated by the public, I found that I had already read and greatly enjoyed the #1 and #3 picks – John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind (though I would reverse the order).

Sitting at #2 was American Gods written by an author of whom I had never heard (likely to the bewilderment of informed sci-fi readers…)   A quick review on Amazon indicated that this book was not so obviously in the expected genre but was instead a mixture of genres.  Still, it was intriguing enough to try, and… it was still ranked #2 between books I liked very, very much.

Now several weeks removed, I think I’m recovered enough to write a review.  I didn’t hate it, and I didn’t like it, either.

Loosely, it’s the story of a man (Shadow) who is released from jail and is pulled into the wake of an older god (Wednesday) who is weakened by faith of modern man being placed in new idols (TV, technology, etc.).  These are promoted to deity status, and likewise aim to keep the old gods a thing of the past.  Tension amongst the gods… okay.  Shadow is recruited as Wednesday’s driver where he witnesses the marshaling of a divergent assortment of vividly imagined, eccentric ex-gods, and… finds himself caught in a highly symbolic, frustratingly literary novel somehow regarded as #2 on a sci-fi/fantasy list.

Sure, there are literal gods who pull (or punch) his strings, timely visits from his decomposing wife, and a showdown of sorts between the relative power of the gods before it moves to a greater revelation.  It certainly takes on an enhanced fictional telling far beyond a symbolic observation of the roadside attractions across America that provide settings for scenes along the journey.

The problem is that despite some great settings and surrounding cast, the two main characters remain as unrevealing and as uninviting as their names.   Flipping page after page (actually, “>” on a Kindle) expecting to find teasing hints about why I would eventually come to care about them, I eventually finished the book realizing I wouldn’t miss either of them.  Protagonists?  Hardly.    It’s clear that the author was reaching for the category of literature, the type that unfortunate school kids will someday have to read and imagine some greater understanding of the modern man.  Wiki should help.

Was there anything of value?  Sure.  Hinzelmann is as well imagined a character as a reader might hope for, including his town and eventual uncovering.   However, although the story fell far short of an entertaining narrative, Gaiman reveals himself to be a great observer of many things, from roadside attractions to human nature.  

I’d consider reading another of his books… after more careful prequalification.  Why? Always looking for thoughtful content or phrases, the details that flesh out the book did not let me down:

“What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul."

“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them."

“Every hour wounds. The last one kills."

“Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.”

"Liberty," boomed Wednesday, as they walked to the car, "is a *itch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses."

"Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives."

2 of 5 STARS

 

(Avoid the 10th Anniversary edition, and buy the original one if you remain interested.  It’s shorter).

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