At the start of this year I said that American Gods was one of the novels I was most looking forward to reading. I also decided to read it right now because the American Gods TV show just debuted and I didn’t want to stumble upon spoilers. I think I also said at the start of the year that I was afraid to read it because I was afraid I wouldn’t like it and who wants to dislike one of their favorite author’s books? Luckily, I didn’t dislike it, but I also would not give it 5/5 stars.
American Gods takes place in our world, but in this America, all the gods that immigrants believed in and those from native peoples are real. They are real living among us today, but since their believers are few and far between they have hit hard times. Most of them do terrible jobs just to survive. They drive taxis, run funeral homes, and some are prostitutes. But what is truly troubling is that they are being hunted by rival gods- the gods of TV, telephones, and computers. Modern Americans worship many things, but few remember the gods of their mother countries.
This concept is brilliant and Gaiman is a master storyteller. He is especially good with mythology and folklore. The stars should align to make this a wonderful novel, but for me it falls just a tiny bit short. I like the novel a lot. It is essentially a mythological road trip and, like any road trip, has a lot of downtime. Have you ever read a book in which you feel like you are reading from the most boring perspective possible? Shadow, the main character of American Gods, does a lot of driving and waiting around. In my opinion, the truly interesting parts of the story are “off camera” for the vast majority of the novel. Shadow is captured at one point and we never quite find out how the gods escaped. We never see exactly how he was helped to freedom. The gods rarely ever seem to do anything. Shadow himself is kind of a dull character compared to all those around him. I found myself desperately wanting more from the book. More action, more mythology, and more gods doing things. The “Coming to America” and interlude chapters help expand on the myth aspect, but it wasn’t quite enough to satisfy me.
My other complaint is twofold and a little more complicated. First, where are the gods and beings that people believe in today? Jesus is briefly mentioned, but it is not clear where angels, Allah, Jesus, and so forth fit into the battle between techno-gods and mythology/religious gods. So, secondly, it kind of seems like it is acceptable to play with the portrayal of gods that “no one” believes in today, but it is not OK to play with the idea of “today’s” gods. I know my phrasing here is lacking, but maybe my meaning is somewhat clear? Now, I also haven’t looked up much on Gaiman’s thinking or intent when writing this novel so maybe these questions have been answered somewhere?
But yes, I did enjoy the novel and I still love Gaiman’s work. I simply have some pretty high standards for the authors I love. I wish I would have thought of something like American Gods and I wish I could write anything close to Gaiman’s novels. I also just wish American Gods hit a little closer to the 5/5-star mark for me.