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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

— feeling evil grin
American Gods - Neil Gaiman

American Gods is pretty much everything I expected from Neil Gaiman. It's a bit of a crisis for me, I am a writer after all, and I don't have a lot to add to what has already been said, but I'll add this piece to the pile. If you are familiar with his writing or have already heard of this book second-hand, not a lot of surprises in this review, but maybe you'll like one of my jokes or clever references! If not, then there is still hope for us both, read on and enjoy.


What struck me throughout American Gods is that Gaiman simply refuses to grow up, or let his stories grow up, and that may be my favorite feature in his writing. Don't get me wrong, the subject matter is very mature, and he is a very good writer, but his approach has a quality that is rare in adult genre fiction: he suggests that his world is ours. Or something very much like it. I touched on this feature in my update about wonder and I thought about it more since then. Harry Potter, Animorphs, most ghost stories, some spy stories (or were they programs I just barely remember now), they invite you into the world they created. Harry Potter is the best example, Hogwarts and the wizarding world were constructed in a way that it could exist alongside the reality you experienced. That you could go to school, deal with bullies and imagine a magic world behind some curtain that other people don't see.


We don't feed those illusions as adults so our fantasy tends to be self-contained. A Song of Fire and Ice is a discrete universe. We may write fan fiction or theories that allow us to contribute to that world, but not very many adults are running around the park after school playing Red Wedding. Gaiman gives us a familiar setting for his world, juxtaposing his tired, old-world gods in the preparations for war, the curiosities of the American road, and the very common problems of a man in grief, spending hours in the car, getting used to a new town. It makes this story compelling in a way I don't usually find fantasy books to be. Something in how it rewards the readers imagination more than it revels in the author's.


American Gods is a long haul for a story that doesn't feel like it is aiming at epic status. It is being made into a series for Starz which makes more sense to me. The structure is episodic, Gaiman sets up conflicts and resolves them neatly in what seems like 6-8 shorter parts, though they are all headed in the direction of the main conflict. It helps the 500+ pages move along quickly and it keeps you engaged. This structure also makes it easier to establish the stakes in this universe. When you're watching a police procedural you can guess the outcome of a scene by looking at the timestamp, in a novel you just have to look at how many pages are in your right hand, but in this story you realize quickly that you can't take anything for granted.


Set aside some time if you plan to give this a read. Even a quick 500 pages takes time to get through, but unlike other doorstoppers, American Gods isn't particularly difficult. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane which came out a decade later and Gaiman's style seems to be pretty consistent so if you liked something else by him you will probably enjoy this, one of his most notable works.