“America is no place for gods.”
Having worked in books and publishing for quite a few years now, I decided to start a blog documenting what I read for pleasure, sharing thoughts on news relating to books and whatever else might fit. That said, it can be hard to determine where to begin. The release of the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods offered a perfect start.
I discovered American Gods and Gaiman later than many avid readers, a gross oversight on my part. What a revelation! There are few modern authors who wow me, but Gaiman did.
The book begins with a man known only as Shadow being released from prison a few days early due to the tragic and unexpected death of his wife, Laura. On the plane home, Shadow is offered a job by his seatmate, the mysterious and well informed, Mr. Wednesday. Though Shadow initially rejects the offer, some unfortunate revelations at his wife’s funeral (I will not spoil the scene) and the timely reappearance of Wednesday change his mind. Shadow agrees to become Wenesday’s driver providing the position will not require him to do anything that would land him back in prison. Shadow’s initiation and oath to Wednesday heighten the already rising sense that something is very different about Mr. Wednesday.
So the adventure begins and Gaiman’s humorous writing really becomes brilliant. Early on in the book, Gaiman lays out a world in which all the gods different groups brought to our land still exist here. Many are weak due to lack of belief and have been forced into less than deity worthy careers like con man, prostitute, and even funeral director. Though they have been able to survive making due, the old gods are facing a very real threat from the new gods- credit card, television, and internet, to name a few.
Wednesday wants to round up all the old gods for a final battle with the new gods for America. He and Shadow travel the country enlisting gods from many pantheons to join the fight. There is an especially memorable scene that takes place at the very real House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Along the way, Shadow’s dead wife returns, he is hunted by black ops agents, and he encounters Americans from every walk of life. It is a rare book that is both intelligent and exciting.
Ten years on, this book is still relevant. I think it always will be, though the new gods might change. Like Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville did with Democracy in America, Brit Gaiman does here. As an admiring outsider, he illuminates what is great, unique, and even absurd about the United States. We are a youthful nation building so much up, but always antsy and ready to trade the old for new without much hesitation. Still, there is a part of us peeking just a little into the past. Gods nor technology are lasting here, but they still shaped what we are. We survive and move forward. In the end, it is the land, not the beliefs that define us.
A good background in mythology certainly makes the reading experience a little more exciting (“Hey, that is the god…” a-ha moments), though it is not necessary as most are usually revealed. I found a couple sites useful for finding more out about a particular god.
A note relating to the Tenth Anniversary Edition specifically. Honestly, unless you are a huge fan or a really committed reader, the new edition in hardcover does not offer a lot over the older paperback edition. A few extra notes and an appendix featuring a scene with Shadow and Jesus, which Gaiman could not work into the main text, are the only differences. It is a great exchange but not essential by any means.
Love American Gods? Hate it? Gaiman fan? Read the new edition? Share your thoughts.