When I picked up American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew only two things: 1.) It was cited as a genre classic and 2.) the podcast, Writing Excuses, mentioned a scene from the book where a god burned his fingers on a hot apple pie. And while I admit the book was on my To-Be-Read list for quite some time, the hot apple pie scene mention is what made me buy the book.
The story begins with Shadow, a quiet and introspective convict, looking forward to reuniting with his beloved wife. However, things take a turn for the worse when he’s released from prison a couple days early in order to attend her funeral. From that point on, the reader journeys with Shadow as he hooks up with a mysterious stranger who seems to know everything about him. He meets interesting characters, creatures of legend and myth, but in modern and somewhat dilapidated settings. He never knows what is going on or what surreal situation he’ll be thrown into next, yet he takes each new turn in stride. After all, what does he have to lose? He has already lost the love of his life.
One of the things I most enjoyed about the book was trying to figure out who the characters were. Forgotten gods live on the edge of society as prostitutes and grifters and grocery store clerks; and it’s only through exposure and careful sifting that their true identities are revealed. Meanwhile, the new modern gods are all too recognizable; and Shadow’s journey down the rabbit hole seems to lead inexorably to a final battle for existence between the ancient and the modern gods. In the midst of all the action, there are several murders to unravel. Shadow’s life, liberty, and perhaps his sanity, are in constant danger; yet, Gaiman wraps everything up with a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
My only dislike was the one disturbing sex scene. However, the scene did contribute to the plot and shed light on the nature of one of the gods. Profanity and violence are prevalent throughout the novel, but all are appropriate to the characters in their modern guises.
American Gods has found a place on my bookshelf alongside my other favorite novels. If you read this book, I suspect it will find a place on yours as well.