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. Of course, I know that the entire world seems to love Sandman, but I’m not a fan of graphic novels. 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 memorably distressing if it weren’t so masterfully done!1I found the text online if you care to read it, but please understand that the story deals with pedophilia, necrophilia, and incest. It is the polar opposite of all things Disney. Snow White was never one of my favorite fairy tales, and Gaiman 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 reasonably 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 prominent 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. 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 each reference online at any time.
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 usually stop to do that, as such matters are 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 in 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 has an easily identifiable theme and tropes and all those elements that I recall from long-ago literature classes. Those were the things that put me off from my original English major. I hated tearing other authors’ works apart instead of writing anything original. (Now, I 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 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 truth that needs to be stated far more often, especially today. It’s even more interesting that it took a Brit to say it.
The book is dark, although it has some very bright spots. I will acknowledge that I was going through a terrible time regarding my health when I read it, but I still think it might be best for some people to read this one when in a reasonably positive state of mind.