‘American Gods’ brings a grim but exciting adventure

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

Some authors like to start books off with a bang–you know, a guy gets killed, the villain displays how utterly irredeemable they are. Others go for stage setting–painting a vivid landscape upon which the story will play out.


Neil Gaiman starts “American Gods” with a man getting absorbed by a prostitute while in the act. It pretty well sets the tone for the novel.


It tells the story of Shadow, an ex-convict who gets released a few days ahead of schedule on account of his wife dying in a car crash. His journey home is littered with weird happenings–a rescheduled flight, a guy calling himself Wednesday who always has a glass of Jack Daniels but never looks sloshed, mead and a fistfight with a leprechaun that ends with Shadow accidentally stealing the poor fellow’s luck.


What follows is no less strange.Shadow begins working for Mr. Wednesday as a chauffeur and general gofer, and finds himself caught up in a world that was lurking just out of sight. A world where myths cling to life in a land that no longer believes in them and struggle to hold their own against a new generation of gods.


Gaiman brings his usual blend of whimsy and subtly unsettling strangeness to the story, lending the whole thing a dreamlike quality.


One thing Gaiman does to establish the setting is cut away from the main narrative to deliver vignettes that show immigrants bringing their gods and legends to America. This either adds neat flourishes to the proverbial car, or crashes its smooth ride into a traffic barricade. While interesting world-building, I didn’t think it was necessary, but that might just be my confusion with the


Arab man finding meaning in life by sleeping with a djinn and becoming a taxi driver talking.


Shadow’s complete lack of reaction to most of the events of the book (the most confused he gets is when he runs into Wednesday twice within a day in very different places) is probably the least believable part. He just shrugs and rolls with the weirdness. A part of it might just be pragmatism; telling an imaginary being that is impossible is the height of folly, but it gets jarring as things really start to ratchet up.


The most egregious instance of his non-reaction is when his wife, Laura, reenters the story. Through a chain of events too long and inexplicable to detail quickly, she’s a zombie. He’s more upset with the circumstances of her death than he is perturbed by the walking corpse in his hotel room.


She spends the rest of the book wandering in and out of the narrative, either struggling to live normally or horribly murdering people who mess with Shadow because she doesn’t get why death is such a big deal anymore–after all, she died and it wasn’t that bad.


That said, “American Gods” has one of the more interesting villain concepts that I’ve seen in a while–the Spookshow. The Spookshow is a manifestation of most Americans’ belief that there’s a big, shadowy government organization that has unlimited jurisdiction and resources. As a result, one exists. It serves as the brute squad for the gods of the new world.


I won’t call “American Gods” fun. It’s too grim for that. I will tell you two things, though: it’s worth a read, and she’s in the trunk.