from Oline H. Cogdill in the July 5th South Florida Sun Sentinel
American Gods. By Neil Gaiman, read by George Guidall. Harper Audio. $44.95. Unabridged, 14 cassettes, 20 hours.
There are gods who walk among us, hold down jobs, perhaps live next door. Once powerful gods of Old World legends, now the forgotten gods. The Queen of Sheba works as a prostitute on a skid row in Los Angeles. A drunken leprechaun works a con game. The once magnificent Odin is little more than a smooth grifter. They like their Jack Daniel’s, hand-rolled cigars and revere a roadside attraction as if it were Stonehenge.
Thrown into this mix is Shadow who, after three years in prison, wants only to see his wife with whom he’s desperately in love. But before he can be released, his wife is killed in a car accident and he doesn’t much care where he goes.
On the way to the funeral, Shadow keeps meeting Mr. Wednesday, an enigmatic old man who offers him a job running errands. And, as Shadow slowly learns, he is to be a messenger of war. Mr. Wednesday, who is Odin, and the other old gods are about to wage war on the world’s new gods, the gods of television, the Internet, the telephone, credit cards. They are old men and women with white hair out to battle those new gods, who are fat little acne-scarred punks in limos. And they need Shadow’s help. Oh, and Shadow’s dead wife keeps popping up, too.
To say that author Neil Gaiman demands an absolute suspension of disbelief in American Gods is putting it mildly. But Gaiman pulls us in so completely into his alternate universe that the idea of gods doing menial jobs, “existing in the cracks of society,” “getting by on the edge of things where no one watches us too closely” until they can again rule seems so logical.
Gaiman has long been a master of this sort of story in his novels Neverwhere and Stardust and his Sandman series of graphic novels. The winner of four Eisner Awards and a World Fantasy Award, Gaiman uses wry humor, legends and pop culture to give sense of realism to American Gods, which has recently been re-released in paperback and audio.
Shadow becomes akin to Homer’s Ulysses, traveling the country from Minnesota down to Cairo, Ill., to a showdown at the exact center of the United States, a hog farm near Lebanon, Kan. “We are the old gods, living in a new land without gods,” says Odin. It’s only near the end when everything spins out of control that American Gods seems to lose its steam.
While veteran actor George Guidall at first seems the most unlikeliest of narrators, he gathers force, quite like the characters, as American Gods continues. And Guidall knows the correct pronunciation of Cairo, Ill.