I’m honestly running out of ways to express how wonderful Neil Gaiman’s stories are. American Gods is one that I’ve heard so much about for such a long time I thought that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations. I was so wrong. It was different from what I’ve come to expect from Neil Gaiman, but I suspect that’s because it’s less British. The point of this book, as he explains in the introduction to the tenth anniversary edition (oh yeah, I got fancy), was for him to explore and get to know the true United States of America. It’s no less fascinating, thought compelling, and emotionally strung than all of his more British pieces and there’s the added bonus of a lot of action taking place in my home state.
Neil Gaiman is, above all else, a great story teller. Which is convenient given the content of American Gods. The book follows Shadow who, just out of prison and finding himself suddenly out of work, meets a man who calls himself Wednesday, and becomes his bodyguard, of sorts. Spattered throughout the book Gaiman includes stories from all different times and cultures about how various groups brought their own beliefs to America. I imagine background knowledge on mythologies would add more insight to Gaiman’s writing, but from what I can tell it’s not necessary. Not only were the stories entertaining but they were informative (I fact checked a few and they were historically and mythologically accurate). In the introduction to the tenth anniversary edition Gaiman notes that most of the routes traveled in American Gods he traveled himself to ensure accurate depictions and for this I had to do very little research as a lot of the book takes place in Wisconsin, which has been my home state for my entire twenty four years, and all those details, I can assure you, are accurate.
It was also an interesting read because it was a story that kept its secrets very well and for as long as possible. We are as in the dark about what’s going on most of the time as the character we follow, Shadow. Sometimes I would wonder about something and Shadow wouldn’t seem to care about the reason (to be fair he had a lot of reasons for being slightly apathetic about certain situations. Read the book, see if you agree. I think you will.) and sometimes he would ask questions and would not be given very clear answers. While Shadow was not always pushing and looking for answers I found myself wanting to know for him and this kept me reading every chance I had.
I do think it’s worth noting that a Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (a book I reviewed a while back) includes a story about Shadow and it makes a LOT more sense now that I’ve read American Gods. It’s kind of fun to have an afterword of sorts for Shadow.