I once heard Neil Gaiman on an interview with Chris Hardwick over at The Nerdist. It was one of the best and most effective interviews of a successful author I’ve ever heard. Whether your a fan of Gaiman or (like me) never really had him on your radar until now, you really ought to give it a listen. The advice he gives are alone worth blogging about.
Hearing him spurred my interest, and after some brief research I saw the same book title appearing again and again, particularly on lists like “5 books that will make Neil Gaiman your favorite author.” Thus I discovered American Gods, and was not disappointed.
This review will continue with the rough assumption that you’ve read the book, so mild spoiler warning.
Basically, I really liked this book. I am by no means a seasoned Gaiman reader, and I have this lingering feeling that he is unconstrained by the restraints conventional ideas. I get the feeling that his work often leans into the weird, which would sort of explain his preoccupation (and moderate fame) with his association with Doctor Who. As someone who is not a Doctor Who fan, this is sorta news to me.
American Gods follows the character Shadow, an ex-con with a penchant for coin tricks who is revealed to be a son of Odin. There is an elaborate plot involving an unambiguously Ragnarok-ish battle between the Old Gods (those of which everyone might be familiar) and the New Gods (such as the gods of Media, the Internet, of Television, Pyschology, etc.). Characterization is believable and the dialogue is often witty and quotable; I had the pleasure of listening to the 10th Anniversary Edition, which sports a full-voice cast interspersed with “coming to America” interludes read out by Neil Gaiman himself. The voices no doubt helps with the individualization of the plethora of gods and characters, but the prose in and of itself was, at times, nothing short of imaginative. One of my favorite bits, involving someone entering an old, musty house, was (paraphrasing): “…and there was a faint, sweet smell, like the house was haunted by the ghosts of long dead cookies.”
That is brilliant on multiple levels.
While the concepts of “gods exist because people believe in them” and “when you believe in something you give it power” are not new, I gotta hand it to Gaiman for deifying modern concepts of our current world and mode of thought, such as the aforementioned Media and Internet. Heck, there’s even a god of the FBI, and the subtle wit behind their existence is commendable. Have you ever met an FBI agent? No doubt you’ve seen, possibly even met, people involved with the Media, but have you ever met the media before? How about the Internet? Most of you reading this (I wager) are familiar with the Internet’s use, but who among us can truly grasp it? Can truly understand what it is, how vast it is? With very few exception, chances are the answer is no.
But you believe they’re there, donchya?