Wednesday, April 8, 2009

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

2001; 588 pages. Genre : Contemporary Fantasy. Awards : 2002 Hugo Award; 2002 SFX Magazine Award; 2002 Bram Stoker Award; 2004 Geffen Award. It cleaned up, man. Overall Rating : A.
This book has already been reviewed by Amanda here, and by Jim at our godbloggers site here. This is going to be the "yin" to Amanda's "yang".
Summary : The story follows Shadow, a somewhat naive and sunny-dispositioned chap, after he gets out of prison and falls in with a bunch of long-forgotten gods, the main one of which is named Wednesday, and whom we quickly figure out is an incarnation of the Norse god, Odin. Wednesday's rallying lots of old, forgotten gods and legends (like Johnny Appleseed) in preparation to a war against the "new" American gods - such as the Internet; the Media, etc.
What's To Like...
There's a slew of complex plotlines, all of which Gaiman manages to deftly tie up by the end of the book. The plot-twists will leave you mumbling, "I didn't expect that". I found almost all the characters - whether they were major or minor; good or bad; humans or gods - to be 3-D and interesting. Finally, it's a mythology-lover's smorgasbord. Gaiman pulls in gods and folk characters from all sorts of nationalities - German, Norse, Egyptian, Slavic, American Indian; India Indian; Arab, and more.
Can't you say anything negative?...
Not a lot. The book reads like a mini-trilogy. The first 200 pages are fantastic; and so are the last 200. The middle 200 pages (where Shadow is hanging out in Lakeside) drag just a bit. And call me a prude, but the sex scenes were a tad raunchy and unnecessary. They could've been edited out, and Gaiman would still have a bestseller on his hands, but it would now be something that a High School Lit class could read and discuss. I didn't need to know the lurid details about how Salim and the Ifrit managed to meet and swap identities.
What kind of plotlines are there?
#1 : Shadow is on a quest to figure out who he is. #2. : Shadow is trying to find out who his father was. Mom never talked about him. #3. : Shadow's wife passes away (in a most Garpian manner) right before he's let out of prison. She's now a ghost (insert plug here to watch 'Ghost Whisperer' on Friday nights); and Shadow is most persistent in trying to find a way to bring her back from the dead. #4. : Why are kids disappearing at the rate of one a year from Lakeside? #5. : How can Odin (or any other god) be hanging out in America and at the same time have people still believing in him back in Scandinavia? #6. : How can the new American gods be overcome? #7. : That whole Armageddon/Ragnarok thing.
And they all get resolved by the end of the book. No 11-part series here. We'll give American Gods an "A" and look forward to reading the kinda-sorta-but-not-quite sequel, Anansi Boys, in the near future.


Amanda said...

We are so exactly opposite here. I found this book extremely predictable (almost nothing surprised me. I only remember one thing happening I didn't realize in advance), and the only part of the book I liked was the 200 middle pages in Lakeside. I also thought just about all the characters were flat and caricatured. I will agree that there were quite a bit of unnecessary sex scenes, though not as many (by far) as in The Time Traveler's Wife. I know such statements don't make me very popular, but I just couldn't stand this book. I'd say maybe it's a guy/girl thing, but like I said in my review, my dad hated the book, too. And I found out later, my brother tried to read it and gave up because he thought it was awful, too. Hrm, maybe it's something in my blood and upbringing...

hamilcar barca said...

ISTR you mentioned in your review that you weren't keen on mythology. i can definitely see where this book would drag then.

i've thought about reading The Time Traveler's Wife. hey, it (presumably) has time-travel in it. one of my favorite pastimes.

and i love it when multiple reviews arrive at vastly different evaluations about a book. ideally it inspires others to read it and give a tie-breaking review. or better yet - a "third opinion".

Amanda said...

Despite me and my family, I think most people side with you on this book.

It isn't so much that I dislike mythology. When I was younger, I liked mythology, especially the greek variety, quite a lot. I've also been reading a lot of books lately that are steeped in mythology, and they don't bother me at all. I think the problem with this book was that there was no character I liked or could relate to. I wanted them ALL to lose. If they all died, I could be done with them. ;)

hamilcar barca said...

diff'rent strokes for diff'rent fokes. my son and my friend in England are two of about five people in the whole world who think that everything Tolkien wrote is a waste of perfectly good ink.

Amanda said...

I have yet to read Tolkien, though I will attempt The Hobbit later this year.

hamilcar barca said...

i'll be interested in your opinion of The Hobbit. it's a shorter and easier read than LOTR, and it's in a somewhat lighter vein. but there are still some serious issues addressed, such as the futility of war and stereotyping other races.

L said...

This book did win some manisized awards. Maybe it is a male/female thing.

Oh, and Tolkien rocks!

Christina said...

Your review makes me question if sex does sell. I'm not a fan of gratuitous sex. Not being a prude, I just don't need the entire thing written in such graphic detail. If I see too many sexual references and/or scenes which last for ten pages or longer and there's more than one! That author gets dropped. I just dropped one because I get the impression some young (if not in age, then in heart), "hip" female (maybe) authors feeling vampirism and anything paranormal is an outlet for sexual and clothing fantasies. I don't find that good writing, but maybe that's just me...

hamilcar barca said...

Lula - you're right. Tolkien rocks. i don't know where my son picked up his attitude re LOTR. certainly not from me.

Christina - i agree. sex sells. and if one has written a boring novel, maybe it's best to throw some gratuitous sex in it to get people to buy/read it.

and there's the problem with the sex in American Gods. it's a good, well-written book. Gaimam didn't need to stoop to lurid sex scenes to make it readable. if he felt sex was an integral part of a god's life (and it often was), fine. but there was no need for the graphic details.