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Revival Tour: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow is having a bad day. Just out of prison, he learns that his wife, Laura, and the source of the job he’d counted on, his friend Rob, are both dead. A nasty storm keeps diverting or delaying planes as he tries to get home for the funeral. And a strange fellow named “Wednesday” persists in offering him employment.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a fascinating premise; gods require worship the way people require air and water. Without the attention and adulation of the believer, gods simply fade away—and the old-world gods who came to the New World in the hearts of immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa are in a bad way. They’re being supplanted by new American gods.

The literal storm that diverts Shadow’s plane is matched by the metaphysical storm that’s coming. Shadow is swept up in the tricky maneuvers of Grimnir One-Eye, who cons and cheats everyone he encounters. When Shadow’s dead wife Laura shows up, her cold animated corpse confronts him with his own unfeeling nature; Shadow might as well be sleep-walking, for all the involvement he has in his own life. He seems to follow Wednesday passively, allowing the older god to direct his actions as a way of avoiding choice. Yet in the coming battle of gods, Shadow will be required to make the most difficult of choices.

The new gods are easy to identify: Media wears the faces of Lucy Ricardo and Katie Couric; Technology Boy is a pimply, circuitry-for-brains geek; a literally-unnoticeable entity embodies Gambling. For the older gods, it helps to have read The Golden Bough, Frazier’s great comparative-religion compilation, although Ibis and Jackal, Horus and Easter, “Mama-Ji” Kali, Medusa, and various Norns and Fates are recognizable. Gaiman does not short us on the lesser-known boggarts and heroes, either. Sooner or later, every mythological creature you’ve ever heard of (and more than one that you haven’t) comes into the story.

Gaiman weaves the tangled stories of all these gods and their histories into a complex braid, then whips it around into a hangman’s noose. And if important characters die in the telling of the tale; well, resurrection is expected of a god.

American Gods is a dark romp, surprising in the way a good mystery ought to be (but often is not), with plenty of unexpected twists to keep the reader guessing. Wonderful!

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  • The Theory

    I first because aquanted with Gaiman after reading “Good Omens” which he wrote with Terry Pratchett… and that was amazing. So when I found this used I picked it up.

    It was a delicious read.

    The only thing I would have changed is that girl Shadow meets in the middle of nowhere (who’s name i forget off hand) and pops up occationally… she should have had a more integral role throughout the book. Her character was the most interesting of the lot and she just goes to waste.

  • DrPat

    Sammi Black Crow – and yes, I kept expecting her to have some romantic part to play in the tale. Actually, her two meetings with Shadow were for two different reasons within the story’s context. In her first encounter, she serves to distract from the appearance of Horus as a hawk. The second time she meets Shadow, it is part of a diversion planned by Hinzelmann, although we don’t discover either one until the end of the book.


    I really enjoyed the way Gaiman sets up the premise for the reader and introduces the old gods, his characterizations of them were very well done rather than cheap and obvious. The book started dragging in the middle third, IMO, and so I shelved it for awhile. I will read it when I return to my home.

  • The Theory

    I tend to agree, SKI. However, by that time Gaiman had sold me enough on the characters that I was able to look past that… I can see how it wouldn’t be the same for everyone, though.

  • Scott Butki

    I just finished the new Gaiman book. It too is quite good. Very funny stuff.