American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Paperback: 736 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (19 Sept. 2005)
This review is of the extended paperback book not the upcoming TV series.
Plot summary from somewhere, probably Wiki – edited by me. ‘Shadow Moon served three years in prison for assault. He is given an unexpected early release after wife Laura is killed in a car accident. Flying home for the funeral, Shadow is seated next to a man calling himself Wednesday, who offers Shadow a job. Arriving home, Shadow finds that the life he thought was waiting for him is gone. He accepts Wednesday’s offer. At first, it appears that Wednesday is nothing but a con artist who runs scams for cash and needs Shadow as a collaborator and bodyguard. Shadow soon learns that Wednesday is in fact the god Odin of Norse mythology. Wednesday is making his way across America, gathering all the old gods, who, without believers, have now incorporated themselves into American life and pretend to be ordinary people, while the New Gods – Media, Technology, and a host of others – grow ever stronger. Shadow finds himself drawn into a final confrontation between the old gods and the new.’
Road story. Generally I enjoyed it although there is precious little back story on Shadow and yet I cared for him. This version is the longer ‘preferred’ one but I can see why his editors wanted to cut 12,000 words. Many side / back-stories with very little relevance to moving the story on. Of course with gods as a theme, almost everything could be involved but I didn’t see why the slavery chapter 11 helped, interesting though it was. In fact all of the asides are enjoyable and so adds to the élan of the novel even if not moving the plot onwards. It’s as if the melange of almost-unrelated scenes compiles to the whole.
In some ways the unnecessary back-stories applies to the scams Wednesday does for ready cash. Eg the First Illinois Bank deposit scam where he poses as a bank employee and standing outside persuades gullible business people to leave their money with him in exchange for a forged deposit slip. The coin tricks are fun and the illusions form part of the godlike powers in allegory form. In my Chester SF Book Group members point out that Wednesday, like many of the ancient and mostly unfollowed gods have insufficient ‘magic’ to make money and so resort to such tricks. It’s as if the power of a god is in direct proportion to the number of followers. I like that.
Phrases I wished I’d written and might steal in an adulterated way:
P9 “Two pale hands rested on the desk like pink animals.”
“rains… slickened the roads into road accidents”
“Life is a Cabernet” bumper sticker.
p467 Shadow: “I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of the people in the dark.”
Great Backstage scene when Wednesday uses runes on the RV to avoid a road block and they both experience the ‘other’ world the gods live in.
P397 Laura – I like his dead wife appearing now and then to rescue him. She describes him as a ‘man-shaped hole’ when asking him if he is really alive. I wonder if Gaiman really meant a hole or a shape in existence that has form but no or little substance.
Sometimes Shadow doesn’t quite hear or misinterprets names of gods or their entourage so his brain thinks Elvis when he knows they’re probably not really called that. I like.
When Wednesday ‘died’ I felt sad. As Shadow describes him, he is irascible but he grew on you.
p.462 Exact centre of America: this notion always of interest to me and to my geography pupils. I’d tease them with the concept that there is no precise equator because the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere (an oblate spheroid) and down to an exact mm it is always changing with snow on the poles accumulated or melting. Also – the geometrical issue of what is a line? Same with the exact centre of things. Great Britain it’s near Dunsop Bridge, Lancs; Britain it is Whalley, Lancs; England it’s Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire. The mid point N-S, W-E Haltwhistle in Northumbria
With the blood spots, Wednesdays pale suit became a pointillist mess.
The point we’re all waiting for – the coming Storm – the war between the old and new gods was defused by quite a weak speech by Shadow on how the ‘main’ gods only wanted a battle so they could feed off the mass deaths.
The symmetry of the ending with the coin toss and it hesitating, so to speak, and perhaps not falling – fabulous story ending.
Which is his ‘best line’ taken from Gene Wolfe in the Epilogue? Is it the one where he says you can’t judge the shape of a man’s life until it’s over and done? Or the one where Shadow says he doesn’t believe in gods but they believe in him. Similar to a line in the film Gothika (2003) “I don’t believe in ghosts but they believe in me.”
P633 Odin, on Iceland – (not Wednesday although Wednesday is him) ‘…his skin was lined with tiny wrinkles and cracks, like the cracks in granite.’
Ends with Shadow flicking a gold coin he produced from the air high up and it hovers up there as if not coming down.
I like that scene for an ending even though I thought the battle – the actuation of the coming Storm was feeble.
Similarities between AG and The Stand by Stephen King (1985)
Both are road stories
Both have bad v good groups leading towards
A “Coming Storm” – often said in both books
Both have characters playing magic tricks
Both have the same idea line – I don’t believe in X but X believes in me. In The Stand, Nick – the deaf mute – writes a note to say he doesn’t believe in God but old Mother Abagail says it doesn’t matter because God believes in him. John Rennie in the Book Group thinks this idea goes back to Herodotus.
Everyone in the Chester Library SF Book Group enjoyed American Gods. Most of us, especially me, enjoyed his Neverwhere, too. We agreed that American Gods was Gaiman’s turning point in making it big in the US market after his success in other media.
Xaghra’s Revenge continues to go through its editing phase at Solstice Publishing. There’s now a facebook page dedicated to it at http://www.facebook.com/xaghrasrevenge
ARIA Trilogy. This apocalyptic story based on infectious amnesia still hasn’t reached significant numbers of readers I think it deserves. Similar books like Station Eleven and The Andromeda Strain achieved greater numbers. So, I’ve contacted many of those who gave positive reviews of those novels to see if they would review ARIA: Left Luggage. Currently it has 43 reviews on Amazon. If you’ve read it perhaps you’d be good enough to jot a line about it even to say you enjoyed it, or not. A recent reader said, ““Hoping to finish Aria tonight. Loving it. You’ve got me interested in Sci Fi after not reading any for years.”
Try it for 99p or $1.23 on Kindle, a bit more in paperback
My newest published book is The Chaos of Mokii published by Solstice Publishing. It is an experimental scifi and takes only half an hour to read. Summed up with: Olga sits in a train but her mind is in Mokii, a city populated entirely by the consciousness of its inhabitants. Once she’s tricked her way past the figment bouncer she finds fun but also danger. 99 pence http://mybook.to/ChaosOM
Other books of mine including anthologies I am in are at amzn.to/zrC6J6