There aren’t many novels that live on my desk looking at me and reminding me that I want to reread them, but American Gods is one of them. I first read a borrowed copy which I devoured and now every time I reread it, it still sucks me in like magnetism. Every time I read it I find more I love, I find more details to enjoy, I find something else to enthuse about. It is a winding read, the world of American Gods is ours, but it’s dynamic and has uncertain rules.
Gods walk with us, figuring out how to survive on little or no belief, and American Gods is populated with characters that are remarkably distinct. The old Gods are cherry picked from all cultures, they come from Cornish, Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, American Indian and so on. They’re big smoking Russians threatening to knock a man down with a hammer, or cats that sneak into dreams in their human forms to get intimate with the dreamer. Whenever I pick up this novel I feel how far away the ending is, I feel how unclear and distant a destination it is. And I love that.
But my biggest problem whenever I try to describe this novel to someone is always where to start.
There is a lot to say about this novel and there never seems to be enough time to do it justice.
A war is coming. A war between the old Gods and the new Gods. The new Gods of Television, Media, Greed, Shopping Complexes, and the Internet, are trying their best to delete the old Gods. The old Gods try their best to survive across America on what little belief is left for them. Most of them have come to America on whispers of belief from immigrants long since dead, but while there is pockets of belief the God will survive somehow.
We start the book with a guy called Shadow, who is due to be released from prison. He is a big, quiet, and is fond of learning coin tricks and keeping his head down. Two days before his release date he is let out of prison early because his wife Laura has died in a road accident. Grief stricken Shadow then meets an odd old man on the plane home. The man calls himself Wednesday and he offers Shadow a job as his personal bodyguard.
It is Wednesday who throws Shadow headlong into a world of weirdness, where there are few rules and Gods are everywhere. My favourite parts of this novel are there are no boundaries. Televisions will talk to you if they choose to. There is a God who accepts worship by swallowing her human prey through her vagina. There is a Spider God who claims to have once stolen tiger testicles for his own. There are crazy eagle men in the sky. The thunderbirds are real birds. Dreams can heard by everyone listening instead of being private things. There is a dead woman running around trying to protect her husband from the trouble he gets himself into. Belief gathers at roadside attractions and old men who are not as they appear.
This is a through and through fantasy that will grab you by the eyes and refuse to let you look away. It is a novel that gathers up many strands and whips them into shape with relative ease and it is a rapid enjoyable read. Whenever I finish this novel I really feel its absence, I feel the book hangover creep in and mourn the loss of a friend. I like how this novel picks characters from the wealth of human belief in Gods. I like how it winds from place to place and twists in ways you may not expect. I love how difficult it is to put down even if the story is so familiar to me. It is one of those genuinely enjoyable novels to visit, it welcomes you in to get comfortable, it entertains and thrills and has a little bit of everything.
This is one of those 550 pages novels that doesn’t feel like it is 550 pages and if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with it and wish it was longer and that there was more. There are many reasons why American Gods sits on my desk looking at me and reminding me to reread it, the biggest is it is one of my all time favourite books. I recommend it to anyone.