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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

A storm is coming…

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy /is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

Is there any point to reviewing a book that has been available since way back in 2001? Especially when that book was written by someone like Neil Gaiman? I could be wrong but in genre circles I think he falls squarely into that elite circle where an author is categorised as “a bit of a legend”. With that in mind, I suppose the waffling* that follows is more of an appreciation rather than a review of American Gods. What with the television adaptation arriving imminently (today in the UK) it seemed like the ideal time for a re-read.

We live in an era of great upheaval and change. America, in particular, seems to be in a constant state of flux. Most recently, we can point some of that change squarely in the direction of the country’s recent change in management, but since the beginning of the 21st century it seems like the USA is being reshaped constantly. Hell, it feels like we’re all moving at speed towards a world of ever increasing disposable income and instant gratification. The old is constantly butting heads with the new, and Gaiman’s novel revels in that conflict. Why worship a vengeful god, or gods, when you can replace that with worship of technology or a currency, and it gives you that same feeling of belonging.

There is a point in the narrative when Shadow Moon finds himself in the town of Lakeside, and those chapters perfectly captures the juxtaposition of the traditional American Dream versus the new visions of Modern America. Lakeview helps to highlight the contrast between white picket fences and the local diner versus Kardashian shaped reality television and the pursuit of wealth and celebrity. Gaiman’s exploration of this feels eerily prescient. Written over fifteen years ago, he still manages to make the story timeless and topical in the same breath.  I’m certainly not going ask him how he knew where we would end up when it comes to the modern cult of fame.

Revisiting a book years after you originally read it is a strange business. When I first discovered American Gods I think I took most of the story on face value; gods battling it out for the belief of humanity. That is always going to be cool isn’t it? Looking over the text now, with slightly more seasoned eyes, I see a deeper meaning in Shadow’s journey. In fact, if I’m honest, I think I could view the whole novel in an entirely different light. Perhaps the news of Laura’s death has pushed Shadow over the edge into his own personal madness. Maybe everything he experiences is driven by that trauma? I suppose everyone takes their own interpretation away from an author’s writing. In the case of American Gods, I like to think that Neil Gaiman is asking us to just stop and think about our lives. To take a breath and evaluate how we view ourselves and others. This novel is far more than a story depicting a battle between mythological deities. This is a modern fable exploring the internal struggle, the never-ending conflict that exists within us all. How do we choose to interpret the old versus the new, and how we choose to either embrace or ignore these elemental forces in our lives.

Nothing pleases me more than the opportunity to re-read a book that I have read and enjoyed before. Last year I re-read Neverwhere and it was like meeting an old friend. If you’ve never read any Neil Gaiman before, there must be some of you still out there, then I suggest you give American Gods and Neverwhere a try. Actually, include Goods Omens in that list as well, the book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Read all three and I’m sure you’ll find yourself, like me, successfully converted to the Church of Gaiman.

When it comes to music, American Gods is peppered with references throughout the text so I knew my suggestion for this book had to be something special. There was really ever only one artist who was going to work when it came to this story. I was thinking about him before I even started to read the book. Some vintage David Bowie is called for, specifically Young Americans. Now I know what you’re thinking, this is probably a bit on the nose when it comes to a soundtrack for the book, but I strongly suggest you give it a try. Bowie and Gaiman are on the same wavelength as they both poetically dissect a country struggling to define its own identity. The album and book fit together perfectly. As a nice added bonus, Tor.com have also recently produced an article listing every song mentioned in American Gods. You might want to have a gander at that as well.

American Gods is published by Headline and is available now, you probably already knew that. I’m sure those of you who have got this far also already know, but I’ll mention it again anyway, the small screen version of American Gods can be seen on Amazon Prime in the UK now. In the US it is already airing on Starz.

*I’ll be honest. I’ve written most of this after drinking three enormous cups of coffee. There is every chance things may have got a trifle more verbose than normal. I apologise, it’s Gaiman’s fault.

American Gods


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