Sakatch, Scott, “American Gods”, Lethbridge Herald 8 September 2001.
Imagine a world where belief and reality are so interwoven that they can’t be separated.
Old gods walk the Earth but not with mighty, thundering footsteps; instead, they wear worn-out sneakers and smoke cheap cigars. They are hookers and con artists and funeral directors, doing anything they can to survive.
New gods of technology and money threaten their very existence, humble as it is, leading inevitably to that favourite godly pastime — war. Caught in the middle is a man named Shadow who’s trying to figure out what the hell is going on and why it has anything to do with him.
American Gods is a self-contained story in its own right but there are constant references to mythology from all over the world that will be an added treat for fans of folklore.
Neil Gaiman is one of the world’s greatest storytellers and American Gods is just more proof of that. His third novel is a dark, funny, disturbing and ultimately thought-provoking story about how we in the western world believe. The story suggests our thoughts have not only power but lasting effects of which we’re unaware.
I recommend American Gods to anyone and I heartily suggest readers also pick up Gaiman’s other works, including the novels Good Omens (absolutely hilarious) and Neverwhere and the early-1990s comic book series Sandman.
You won’t be disappointed.
Ecklund, Janine, “American Gods”, Lethbridge Herald 8 September 2001.
How can I convince you to read this book? I suppose I could resort to the standard technique of hype and hyperbole, making claims that no book could fulfil.
Perhaps I should recount Neil Gaiman’s lengthy list of accolades, from the praises bestowed upon him by his fellow writers to the numerous awards he has garnered, in the hopes of persuading you with opinions weightier than my own that this gentlemen is worthy of your attention.
Any of these approaches could prove effective, but nothing beats straightforward honesty. My entire review can be expressed in one word, a succinct summary of my heartfelt reaction to — American Gods.
Everything that follows is merely elaboration.
The novel begins by introducing the character of Shadow, a convict serving three years for aggravated assault, a man with a fondness for coin tricks and the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus.
Determined to live a clean life, Shadow is informed, just days before his release, that his wife Laura has died in an automobile accident.
Still in a state of shock, he is released from prison and boards a plane home to Eagle Point, Indiana only to have his flight diverted, by a storm, to St. Louis.
While boarding his St. Louis flight Shadow meets an elderly grifter named Wednesday who is not only aware of Laura’s death, but also quite convinced that Shadow will accept the job offer he extends to him.
Events serve to justify this presumption and Shadow goes to work helping to protect and transport the grifter on a road trip that winds through the Midwestern United States, leading to the mingling of men and gods as Shadow encounters the deities and heroes of Slavonic, Norse, African and Egyptian mythology.
The old gods, brought to this continent in the hearts and minds of early immigrants, have become weak and starved for worship, cast aside in an effort to assimilate into American society.
New gods have emerged to fill the void, those of the media, Internet and automobile, new gods who threaten to extinguish the old.
The only viable option is to fight back.
Out of respect for those who have yet to enjoy the novel’s many twists and surprises I have provided the sparest of plot summaries, but I can assure you that American Gods is a beautifully written work of satisfying depth and complexity.
Gaiman seamlessly integrates elements from the genres of horror, fantasy, romance and mystery as he weaves his tale, a tale that testifies to his abilities as a master of allusion.
American Gods seems deliberately structured for the thoughtful and perceptive reader who will take the time to savour the text, noting the sprinkling of clues identifying each god or acknowledging passages from Yeats or the Song of Solomon. Gaiman even proves himself to be a bit of a conman, misdirecting the reader long enough to pull off some unexpected, but enjoyable plot twists.
Be advised that American Gods won’t appeal to everyone. It is a novel about earthy and occasionally violent pagan gods who drink, smoke, swear and come to know man, in the biblical sense. (In short, they are Americanized).
None of this is done in a gratuitous manner, but I am certain some readers will be quite disturbed by the end of the first chapter.
American Gods is without question the finest book I have had the privilege of reviewing. Curious readers are advised to visit www.neilgaiman.com where they may sample the first chapter for free.
Before concluding, it should be noted that Herald staff member Scott Sakatch campaigned, and rightly so, to have this book reviewed.
Now appreciative readers, grateful to have been introduced to Gaiman’s work, know to whom to address thank-you notes.