Dallas' Book Report: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)
This is where American Gods by Neil Gaiman, comes in. By far, this book is one of the best introductions to world mythology—told with a modern edge—that I have ever read. I like to think of American Gods as a revised edition of Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, but for the melting pot that is America. After all, much like the country I live in, the gang's all here. Everyone gets a seat at the table: African myth, Native American, China, Norse, Hindu, you name it—American Gods has it. I'm still kicking myself for taking as long as I have to finally read it!
The story follows Shadow, a man released from prison to find that his wife and best friend were killed in a car accident. This tragedy then morphs into a strange twist of fate when we meet the enigmatic con-man named Mr. Wednesday. The quirky gentleman offers him a job as a bodyguard. From then on, it is a wild road trip across America as the two of them meet all manner of Gods from across the globe. But they also catch the ire and eye of a robust set of new gods hoping to take the reins of divinity and usher the world into a new age. There's a storm coming, and no one is ready.
There are two great strengths of this book: Pacing. And the merging of social commentary with spirituality. Not spirituality in the sense of hippy-dippy new-ageism, but the spirituality of personal purpose. It helps that American Gods is paced so that nothing within the book feels like a slog to get through. For a manuscript that is nearly eight hundred pages long, there was never a moment where I felt like something could have been taken away or cut down. Everything was in its proper place and served a purpose. That is the crux of American Gods. Even when times seem to be at their darkest—something our hero Shadow experiences many times throughout the book—there is still one's purpose of fulfillment.
This is something that is sorely missing in American society today—a sense of purpose. America has a lot going for it in terms of wealth and consumerism but is lacking in meaning. As people, we are glued to our gizmos more than we are connecting with those that matter; or finding our place in the world. Most of this book was written by Gaiman touring America, pieced together while rolling around the many highways and streets. Leave it to a Brit to raise the mirror to America's face and show us all of the blemishes. The good news is that Gaiman does not berate or bully but befriends and gives us Yanks constructive criticism.
American Gods is a fascinating read which my short book report cannot do justice. You'll just have to take a small leap of faith and believe that it is worth the time. As for me, it was so good that I might plop down and reread all eight hundred pages.