How’d I miss this mythological travel mystery thriller multi-genre story about America written by an Englishman nearly 20 years ago? It should go on your list if …
… you like mythological love and faith stories;
… titanic battles with significant human collateral damage;
… coin tricks;
… con games;
… American travel blogs through backroads and small towns; and
… you don’t lose it when discussing the notion of polytheism.
“American Gods” is about a land of natives and immigrants, all of whom developed or brought with them belief systems in gods who require faith, worship, prayers and love to continue their own existence. As communities disperse and mix, the energy the gods require from followers’ faith is depleted, threatening the gods’ lives, which it turns out are not everlasting. Simultaneously new generations develop new belief systems, further taxing all the gods’ sustenance in an ever-evolving American religious milieu. Gods lose followers, form teams, fight for dominance and make pacts with humans. America is tough on gods.
A kind, honest and faithful human named Shadow is the main character in American Gods. Shadow’s challenges start just before his release from prison and with his anticipation of finally seeing his wife. I can’t really say more than he does see her because every time I write the next sentence describing one of the characters he meets, I end up hitting the backspace key once for every letter I had pressed. There’s no way to describe the plot without giving away way too much. And this book is way too good to throw it away like that.
The book has a complex main plot, numerous subplots, surprises, and important side stories and locations. There’s a lot going on in this book, including a fun focus on coin tricks and con games themselves dependent on misdirection and complication. There’s incredibly good writing, smooth and smirk-provoking, without fake and predictable tension builders. I do suggest that the length and complexity are best managed through a few, long reading sessions. You can’t break this book up into 30 minute sessions … it’s too complex, and too good.
Suffice to say gods are everywhere. Traditional readers of faith may face challenges with a) multiple mythological gods, b) teams of gods working with and against each other, c) humans making pacts with gods for economic gain, and d) no Jesus … well, sort of no Jesus. He’s quoted once on Shadow’s journey. And Gaiman wrote a scene with Jesus, for how can you talk about Gods in America and not talk Jesus? Apparently he can, cuz he cut the scene. Put it back in. Cut it. Then put it in as an appendix in a later edition of the book. That could be a book right there. So just like you never leave a Marvel movie until after the final final credits, read this book’s edition with the Jesus appendix at the end.
It’s long. It’s full of multiple and challenging story threads, that do get pulled, knotted, straightened, cut and ultimately woven together into an incredible tapestry of America. And without obligation, without forcing a quick ending to wrap it all up, Gaiman does close the story and its subplots.
First Gaiman book for me … off to read some more.