So this is another book on my “popular fiction” list of things that I had to read. One of those books whose reputation was so big that I knew that if I didn’t read it, I would be wondering what the book was really like for too long. That being said, I knew nothing substantial about this book going in, other than that it was good and it was written by Neil Gaiman (who I already loved before reading this book).
Here’s the premise: Days before he is released from jail, Shadow discovers that his wife has died in a tragic car accident. With nowhere to go, he accepts a job from a strange man named Mr. Wednesday–a job which leads him toward a war that has been brewing for the last hundred years, between the old gods and the new.
Which is perhaps giving away more of the book than it actually is, if I’m honest, while also telling you nothing about what makes this book amazing (sorry for the bad summary). Saying he’s in the middle of a war makes this sound like it will be a page turner–it’s not. This book is not a fast-paced adventure that you will read in 24 hours. It was a bit like reading myth at times, sometimes it was a page turner, and sometimes it was a nice break from reality. I think what I really liked about it was that it didn’t end immediately. It didn’t give me that feeling of “over before you know it,” instead it took its time. And it wasn’t dull–it wasn’t the type of slow where you would get bored or want to put it down, or think “God I’ve been reading for an hour and I’ve only read 10 pages?!” (We’ve all known that feeling, for me it was reading Chaucer, and it’s not a feeling I particularly want to relive). It’s more like a long road with beautiful scenery and various twisting paths that you want to travel down–a meandering road trip, a book that absorbs you and lets you soak your bones in its story. And I think it was exactly what I needed while I was reading it, because I was looking for something that I could rest in for a long time. I wanted a book that I could thoroughly enjoy–and American Gods certainly did give me that.
As with every book, I did fall in love with all of the characters, all of the gods and goddesses, even the weird ones or the ones who were a little creepy. Shadow was such an interesting character because he was so normal–there was seemingly nothing special about him other than that he was able to take things in stride. The only word I can really find to describe Shadow was warm. He was a character I liked not because he was overly strong or spunky or fun, but because in every interaction he had with others he was warm and real in a way that if you met him on the street you might’ve been instant friends.
Most of all, though, I just loved the way Gaiman told this story. There was this bit, in the back of the book, about how a British man could have been qualified to write the landscape of America, but I honestly think he’s the only one who could have. It’s not that he wasn’t passionate about it–he clearly was, and it showed in every description of each god and each place. But there is something in the fact that he was not American, that he could see it from the outside and not be too harsh or too loyal. And Gaiman has such a unique way of story telling, his writing is so beautiful, that I can’t imagine anyone else as the author.
I will just add this: apparently there are multiple versions of this story. I read the tenth anniversary edition, which apparently has bits that were originally taken out of the published text (making it longer, I guess). I cannot tell you that this is the right move. I have not read the others, and I cannot say which version is better. What I can tell you is that I loved reading this one.