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Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 09-05-2010

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American Gods Amer­i­can Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars
I’m try­ing to remem­ber whether or not I’ve read any of Gaiman’s oth­er nov­els before, and I’m fair­ly cer­tain that I haven’t. I read Good Omens, but that was co-writ­ten with Ter­ry Pratch­ett, and the col­lab­o­ra­tion was genius. I know that the entire world seems to love Sand­man, of course, but I’m just not a fan of graph­ic nov­els. In fact, it took me a while to real­ize that the Good Omens co-author and the Sand­man author were one and the same.

I’ve cer­tain­ly read some short sto­ries, too. The most mem­o­rable, “Snow, Glass, Apples” was reprint­ed in an anthol­o­gy I read recent­ly. I find it dis­turb­ing, so I won’t re-read it. Well-writ­ten, of course — it wouldn’t be so very mem­o­rably dis­tress­ing if it weren’t so mas­ter­ful­ly done!1 Snow White was nev­er one of of my favorite fairy tales, and Gaiman def­i­nite­ly pushed it much far­ther down the list.

In any case, I don’t know what I was expect­ing from Gaiman, but Amer­i­can Gods wasn’t it. I like sto­ries with hap­py end­ings, and with­in the first few chap­ters I was fair­ly sure that there wouldn’t be one. Is Gaiman fun­da­men­tal­ly opposed to joy, or is it just hap­pi­ness that he doesn’t allow?

The nov­el is epic. It is mas­ter­ful. All that stuff from the big crit­ics is dead on. The book could be used as the back­bone of a mytho­log­i­cal scav­enger hunt if a teacher were will­ing to run a very unstruc­tured but engag­ing course that way. I cer­tain­ly enjoyed that aspect of it, and it made me glad that I was read­ing it on my iTouch so that I could look up any­thing I liked online at any time, no mat­ter where I hap­pened to be (which was almost always at home or some­where else that had wifi access, hap­pi­ly).

I sel­dom want to see illus­tra­tions in any book, but yes, I think I would like to see good pic­tures of some of the char­ac­ters Gaiman described in this one. On the oth­er hand, with­out art­work I spent time imag­in­ing what the char­ac­ters looked like based on the descrip­tions. I don’t nor­mal­ly stop to do that, as such mat­ters as sel­dom rel­e­vant to a plot, but these beings caught my fan­cy. Not enough that I would sit through an entire graph­ic nov­el, I’m afraid, but if I saw one now I might flip through it to see how the artist’s ren­der­ings com­pare with my ver­sions.

I’m sel­dom able to iden­ti­fy an over­all Theme to the books I read. Most of them, hon­est­ly, are fluff. I’m fine with that. I read them because they enter­tain me. Amer­i­can Gods is dif­fer­ent. It is enter­tain­ing, but it isn’t light or fluffy in the least. It def­i­nite­ly has an eas­i­ly iden­ti­fi­ably Theme and Tropes and all those ele­ments that I recall from long-ago class­es, the sorts of things that put me off from my orig­i­nal Eng­lish major because I hat­ed tear­ing oth­er author’s works apart instead of writ­ing any­thing orig­i­nal. (Now, I begin to under­stand that we were being taught to rec­og­nize what makes for good writ­ing so we might have some hope of pos­si­bly cre­at­ing some of it one day.)

I some­what timid­ly con­clude that Amer­i­can Gods is the first piece of Lit­er­a­ture I’ve read in a very long time, and well worth the time spent read­ing it. (I find it rather amus­ing that it would be British Lit­er­a­ture, despite its title, due to the author’s nation­al­i­ty.) I’m not going to state the theme, because that would be a spoil­er, and I hate putting those in reviews — but it’s some­thing that I see as a Truth, and one that needs to be stat­ed far more often, espe­cial­l­ly today. It’s even more inter­est­ing that it took a Brit to say it.

The book is dark, although it does have some very bright spots in it. I will acknowl­edge that I was going through a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad time with regards to my health when I was read­ing it, but I still think it might be best for some peo­ple to read this one when in a fair­ly pos­i­tive state of mind.

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1 I found the text online if you care to read it, but please under­stand that the sto­ry deals with pedophil­ia, necrophil­ia, and incest here. It is the polar oppo­site of all things Dis­ney.

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