I would have never picked up “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman had it not been for the ladies of the book club I attend. And to them I say, “Thank you.”
This book defies classification. I haven’t read anything else by Gaiman, so I don’t know if he normally fits into science fiction or fantasy, but that’s as close a genre as I can come up with for “American Gods.”
On the surface, it’s about a young man named Shadow who has been released from prison. On the day he’s released, he learns from the warden that his wife has been killed in a car accident. And then he finds out that his wife was having an affair with another man, and was with him when the car crashed.
So Shadow agrees to work for a strange character who goes by the name of Wednesday. They have several adventures and travels together — and from what I can piece together, Wednesday is trying to get all the old gods together to fight the new gods.
Author Gaiman takes names from established mythology and other cultures and mixes them generously. Some of the names I have heard before: Odin, Loki. But more of them are mysteries. It’s a little like the TV show, “Grimm,” meets “The X Files” meets “Highway to Heaven.”
Gaiman mixes everyday scenes with Shadow’s dreams, and the combination is strangely compelling. Shadow’s wife Laura comes back to him after he tosses a magic coin in her grave. When he sees her next, she is wearing it around her neck. The only problem is: she is still decaying, even though she appears to Shadow. And she would like to live again, if Shadow has any pull with the gods.
The gods have strange new names and some of them occupy different forms or bodies. Laura helps Shadow escape from a couple of the new gods who want Shadow to come to their side. Mr. Nancy is actually Anansi, and Low-Key is actually Loki. Other gods have names such as Stone, Town, and World.
And then there’s the obvious Christ-like images in the novel: Shadow dies hanging from a tree. His mother becomes pregnancy with him when she’s seduced by Mr. Wednesday. (He learns this much later in the novel.)
And the version of the novel I’m reading is the 10th anniversary author’s version. I can only guess what the originally published version was like. I’m confident it was much shorter. But better? Who knows?
I just know I’m going to have a sleepless night when I get down to the end of this book. I’m not going to be able to put it down until I find out what happens and who wins the big battle.