Thomas, Harry “‘American Gods’ a study in details”, San Antonio Express-News, 5 August 2001, 06H
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, Morrow, $26
“American Gods” is so intricately detailed in its imagery that even its stand-alone chapters would get an A+ from any creative writing professor. The reader can almost smell and taste the scenery that acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (“Neverwhere,” the Sandman graphic novel series) paints.
His fans will undoubtedly relish it.
The main protagonist, Shadow, comes off as a strong, silent type who has seen a little too much in the world to be moved by it. Released from prison three days early to attend the funeral of his wife, who has died in a car accident, he is a man haunted by what might have been. On the flight home, he meets the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who offers the ex-con a job as an errand boy. Shadow initially refuses, but when he finds out that his late wife died while consummating an affair with the man who was going to give him a job after leaving prison, he reluctantly accepts.
Wednesday introduces Shadow to a number of strange old characters, all of whom seem to know a great deal about him, more than he knows about himself. Wednesday is attempting to recruit them for the upcoming battle, while they are content to enjoy their retirement. Shadow is also introduced to the opposing forces, which are trying to recruit him to come over to their side, or kill him if he doesn’t.
Shadow takes in what is happening around him rather phlegmatically, as he is dealing with his own issues of grief tempered by the revelation of his late wife’s infidelity. As the events unfold leading up to the battle, he slowly realizes the extent of the holy war that is about to take place, and how much he is caught up in it.
Wednesday, his boss, is a con man trying to enlist others in a cause they would rather ignore.
And the visits by Laura, Shadow’s late wife, are eerily conversational.
For the casual reader, “American Gods” comes under the heading of sensory overload. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much detail; this novel has that. Some of the sequences are almost Kubrickian in their complexity; and knowledge of other religions is required.
Still there is some worthy material here: The idea that America has replaced its old religious icons with the trappings of a modern society is rich in its possibilities, and the old gods reduced to poverty and odd jobs to survive has artistic merit. Law enforcement would also be advised to read the chapter where Wednesday pulls off an ingenious method of bank robbery.