My mind has been blown. It took me a little while to get into this book, but I’m so glad that I did and it’s not just because I knew I should like Gaiman. It’s kind of difficult to describe why without spoilering the crap out of the review, but I’ll try.
We meet Shadow first as he serves out the last few days of his three year prison sentence. He’s kept his head down and served his term, but he’s called into the warden’s office two days before his scheduled release. The warden gives him the worst kind of news: his wife died in a car crash and they’re letting him out early. While flying back to an empty home, Shadow sits next to an older gentleman… an older gentleman who smells like Jack Daniels and has a job offer for Shadow. From here the story whirls into a surreal and magical tale. It turns out that there are gods in America and America is not a good place for gods to be.
I completely loved it. My favorite part for some reason was the Queen of Sheba. She’s such a small part of the tale, but I found her to be the most evocative. She had my sympathy, despite her rather unconventional eating habits.
I also found myself giving Shadow a significant part of my sympathy. He was just this regular guy at the beginning of the story, admittedly odd that he was in jail, but he was going home to his wife and a day job. He went from a completely normal situation and was thrown into the least normal situation possible. He was being employed by a man named Wednesday who basically bled enigma. There were no straight answers to his straight questions and he seals his agreement to work with Wednesday with three glasses of mead. Yeah, you read that right, mead (which I will likely never be able to drink again without thinking of this story.) Here’s the thing that makes Shadow so easy to identify with, he doesn’t flinch at his situation at all. He just rolls with it and finds traction where he’s able to. In some ways, I think this is the most accurate thing in the book. When people find themselves in fantastic situations, sure some are going to react with horror or disbelief, but I think most of us would probably just nod our heads and put one foot in front of the other.
The scenery that floats through this book is nothing short of delightful. Stating that the holy places in America are the tourist attractions is both profound and hilarious because as a culture I think that’s frighteningly true. Think of the state fairs in the Midwest, where you can find a six foot statue of a popular country western singer made of butter (so I’ve heard, I’ve never actually seen it). These are the people who would stop at the world’s largest ball of twine for no other reason than to be able to say that they’ve seen it. These are the people who worship at the temple of sideshow. If one could still go see a bearded lady, rest assured, these are the people who would pay $10 to have the privilege. Though, I don’t think it’s limited to the Midwest. Tourist attractions hold a weird sway over all of America, we just happen to have a particularly high concentration here in the Midwest.
I loved American Gods for so many reasons, but the language Gaiman uses is like a magical spell. Once it hooks into you, there’s really no escape until literally all of the loose ends are tied up and then you’re just going to start planning which of his books you should read next. (Neverwhere for me). I’ve heard so many times that Gaiman is a true wordsmith and all of those people were 110% right. His words are evocative without being hamhanded. He paints his worlds with such depth that it takes no effort to believe in them and see them in your mind’s eye. I fell in love with the silver ash tree in the book for no other reason that the way Gaiman describes it. On some level it reminded me of the God tree in the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay.
4 ink bottles. If the beginning doesn’t immediately hook you, stick with it. Once the pace picks up it never slows down.