Monday, March 30, 2009

Book 36: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors where I never quite understood the big hype. I read Stardust and thought it was cute but not necessarily the most original thing ever - after all, rewriting fairy tales has been kind of a fad in recent years. I really enjoyed the first half of Good Omens and thought the fact that they'd misplaced the Anti-Christ was rather funny, but the ending just didn't seem to quite live up to the beginning. That being said, I really like how Gaiman just kind of deflates things at the end of his novels, and doesn't give his readers the expected show down. For example, the fact that at the end of Stardust, the witch just kind of gives up, saying that the star had already given her heart away, was great. I was disappointed that they actually had a big battle at the end of the movie but I guess films can't always be as dry and matter of fact.

After reading American Gods, I think I understand the appeal of Gaiman a little bit more. The basic premise is of course that gods really exist, and human belief both created them and gives them their power. As part of his cast of characters Gaiman uses a variety of gods from all religions who were brought over from their countries of origin due to their followers' faith in them. After a few years and generations in America, however, many of them became mere after thoughts and funny stories that no one actually believed in. Some of the more modern and powerful gods in the story include the gods of television, money and the internet/technology. Some of the ancient gods are more recognizable and famous than others - for example, the Egyptian gods Ibis and Anubis make appearances as well as some that are much more obscure.

As the novel begins, Shadow, a mere mortal, becomes involved in the world of the gods after he is released fom prison two days early due to his wife's death. Shadow is a rather quiet character - he is large, and most of the people mistake him for dumb due to his size. He doesn't ask many questions and after the initial surprise that Wednesday was able to locate him twice, he doesn't ask many questions. As his dead wife (there's gods in the novel, naturally the dead might rise as well) later tells him, he's not dead but he's not exactly alive, either. In addition to the main narrative, Gaiman includes background stories about some immigrants arriving in country with their gods and various other minor supernatural beings in tow. Many of the twists were easy to guess at (one or two possibly because I need to stop watching Supernatural) but they weren't overly obvious, and guessing them didn't ruin the novel. Much of the enjoyment was from Gaiman's writing and his sense of humor. Additionally, he is very sympathetic and forgiving to his characters as a writer and refuses to place much judgment on any of them even if some of their actions are questionable.

So now that I'm willing to jump on the Gaiman bandwagon, I'm curious which novel would be best suited for follow up? I'm kind of interested in Neverwhere, but it seems like Anansi Boys might be distantly connected to this one.

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