Book Reviews

“A Good Place for Men, but a Bad Place for Gods”: Reviewing American Gods

“Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end” (Gaiman 54).

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Title: American Gods (Author’s Preferred Text)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publication Date: June 19, 2001

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 hearts

Read if You Liked: Any other Neil Gaimen novels, The Magicians by Lev Grossman

American Gods is Percy Jackson for adults. However, similar to how The Magicians trilogy is supposed to be the adult version of Harry Potter, American Gods keeps all the magic and mythology, but leaves out any shred of innocence you might hope to find.  However, don’t let that discourage you from reading this masterpiece. Although it opts out of Rick Riordan’s middle-school humor and ridiculous situations (it’s not like Shadow is sporting a sword that can turn into a pen), there is so much to be gained from reading American Gods.

This week we are celebrating American Literature, and although this book was written by a Brit, Gaimen truly captures the spirit of American life and questionable American values and beliefs.If you love magical realism and the idea that all the ancient mythologies of the world are still alive and well, then discovering Neil Gaimen’s fractured gods amongst his flawed, at times broken, characters will be a worthwhile read.

This novel is also being made into a TV Series for STARS in 2017. So, get ahead of the crowd if you haven’t read it, and check out some of the amazing casting that’s already in the works 🙂

This book was such an accomplishment to finish, and I’m glad I did.  I am officially in love with Neil Gaiman as a novelist—having already falling in love with his Doctor Who episodes previously.  After reading his young adult novel The Graveyard Book (which I highly recommend), I decided to challenge myself  by reading one of his adult books. American Gods was my first of Neil Gaimen’s adult novels that I read, and now I’ve pretty much read almost every other novel he’s written. Gaimen is truly one of the best authors out there right now. 

The Plot

The novel follows an ex-con named Shadow who ends up losing everything after leaving prison: his wife, his best friend, his secured job, a place to call home.  On the flight home, he is propositioned by a mysterious man named Wednesday to work for him; the offer is vague and involves doing what he says and not asking questions.  Shadow initially says no: the guy had to be crazy and Shadow didn’t trust his smile. Shadow then stops at a bar on his way home, and who should be miraculously standing in the bathroom?  You guessed it: that crazy old Wednesday character. After being propositioned again and evaluating that he has nothing left to lose, Shadow says yes and drinks mead to seal the deal.  However, Shadow was right not to trust that smile.  Soon, the reader discovers that Wednesday is not who he says he is and is actually a god on a mission.

From here, Shadow is brought into the colorful and disheartening world of the hidden gods of America.  Neil Gaiman depicts an America where the beliefs and gods of all the immigrants who ever came to this country as well as the original inhabitants of America are personified.  In a time of forgotten gods and religious decline, these characters are not doing well.  They are threatened and being replaced by the new American gods: technology, media, drugs, etc.  

Through many twists and turns of the plot, Shadow is pulled deeper and deeper into the war between the old gods and the new.  Through Shadow’s sprawling journey around America, Gaiman takes a critical look at modern religion, American belief, and shows that America is “a good place for men, but a bad place for gods” (Gaiman 513).

My Take

Through American Gods, Neil Gaimen’s masterfully juxtaposes old and new, reality and illusion, and life and death.  These juxtapositions and his interesting, memorable characters were my favorite parts of being lost in this book.  His character descriptions even of minor, vague characters were colorful and rich.  An example of this is when he describes the Hungarian god Isten as having “a fine black moustache, a large, dusty black hat, and the grin of a man who makes his living selling aluminum siding and new roofs and gutters to senior citizens but who always leaves town the day after the checks clear whether the work is done or not” (Gaiman 453).  Although an unconventional way to describe a god, Gaimen demonstrates the power of vivid imagery and metaphor.  Although meeting dozens of gods and goddesses throughout the text, Gaimen characterizes each  thoughtfully and interestingly for the reader.

However, the most impressive element of American Gods is the questions it raised for me.  I am always delighted when a novel really makes me think and reevaluate my life.  His commentary on modern America, on the faithlessness of my generation, really makes me wonder what kind of moral compass, what kind of belief, we have left in America?   Are we supposed to simply rely on what we can tangibly perceive?  Simply rely on our senses?  Can those sense even be trusted?  If not, what then?  

“All we have to believe with is our senses:  the tools we use to perceive the world, our sight, our touch, our memory.  If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted.  And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end” (Gaiman 125).

However, Gaiman offers that if we rely solely on our sense then that is the road we must take to the end—that there is nothing else but that for us if that’s what we put our belief, our faith into.   Throughout the pages of Shadow’s emotional and physical journey, Gaiman raises even more thought provoking questions.  However, like almost all good literature, it lets us answer them for ourselves.

Some of my other favorite quotes:

  • “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore.  It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul” (Gaiman 224).
  • “There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right.  The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do.  And that is what makes them dangerous” (Gaiman 207).
  • “People believe, thought Shadow.  It’s what people do.  They believe. And then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations.  People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales.  People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen” (Gaiman 477).
  • “He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and will it long enough” (Gaiman 520).

What did you think of American Gods? What other novels/stories about America do you really enjoy?

Lit & Love,

Amy Signature

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3 thoughts on ““A Good Place for Men, but a Bad Place for Gods”: Reviewing American Gods

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