American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Random House Audio 10-year Anniversary Edition
Author’s Preferred Text with Full Cast Narration (Excellent!!)
I’ve got to say that I really loved this book. So much so that as soon as I finished, I started it up again. I read it twice this month! The first time through gave me the whole story; the second read-through helped me pick up some of the smaller details. The allegorical aspect is still confusing to me, however, so I’m a bit leery to (attempt to) review it. There are already some really awesome reviews by much smarter people out there. Read those. 😉
The central story follows Shadow Moon, a man just finishing up three years in prison. He’s “done his own time” meaning he’s stayed out of trouble and has spent his time either working out or practicing his coin tricks, which become important to the story. Three days before his scheduled release, he is let out early due to the fact his wife and best friend were both killed in an auto accident. Everything and everyone he had waiting for him on the outside are now gone. Along comes a strange man, Mr. Wednesday (Odin), who offers him a job as his bodyguard. After some coaxing, he accepts, a deal is made, and Shadow is now bound to serve Wednesday.
Mr. Wednesday happily admits to being a swindler; he is gruff and irascible, and keeps information close to his chest. Shadow is an honorable man, however, despite his past mistakes, and feels loyalty toward him. Strange dreams, occurrences, and even stranger beings surround them now (a leprechaun, the Furies, a succubus called Bilquis) and it comes to light that all the old gods are being brought together for some final fight for survival against the new gods–money, technology, media, etc.
Many of the world’s religions, past and present, mythical and traditional, are represented. Some gods that were long-forgotten are now dead, as they need believers in order to survive. There is an idea that as peoples from around the world migrated to America and away from their original homes, some brought their gods with them, but some were lost or are now endangered due to the fickleness of their followers, i.e. faeries and Tuatha De Danann from Ireland, ifrits and al-jinn from Arab cultures, etc.
There are interludes away from the main story where we meet other people and learn their stories. Often they are prefaced with the title, “Somewhere in America”. Those stories may be about the best little town in its area, but one in which teenagers seem to run away or go missing every year. One follows a New York City cab driver (with a secret) and his discontented passenger who is new to the country. They strike up a conversation which leads to both of their circumstances changing drastically.
Another is about Shadow’s dead-but-now-arisen wife, Laura Moon, as she tries to fit into a normal (albeit nocturnal) life while trying to hide her undead status. As her physical body is quickly deteriorating, we are given humorous glimpses of others’ impressions of her, esp. her malodorous scent, which appropriately enough is likened to a strong floral perfume which smells like air freshener masking a smell of decay. In death as in life, she creates problems for Shadow, but she seems to be waiting to fulfill a final recompense for her mistreated husband.
All-in-all it is about a quest Shadow is determined to follow through to the end.
One question I have for others who have read American Gods is this: Is it hinted at that religion, including the belief of the ‘Father God’ and his Son, Jesus Christ, is supposed to be similar to a two-man grift, using the “misdirection” of a martyr to help people keep their faith? I didn’t get the sense that Gaiman was mocking religion, but I didn’t know if that was an idea we were to end up with. Can someone clarify? This obviously went to deeper levels than my pea brain can reach.