Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a frighteningly good, utterly relentless and painstakingly crafted tale that doesn’t just offer one story from the wayward mind of its writer, but a stable of side-projects just as compelling as the central storm.
Whilst American Gods is sold as a war between the Old Gods and the New Gods on the battlefield that is America, that would do Gaiman’s quintessential work a disservice. It is meandering and wayward but focused and unyielding in its narrative and its character vignettes and textured with grains befit and welcome in the Saharan desert.
I can keep writing and tell you how American Gods’ protagonist is Shadow Moon, a recently released convict who’s services are acquired and paid for by a has-been grafter called Mr. Wednesday, but that would, once again, do Gaiman a major disservice. American Gods isn’t just one story, it isn’t two, it isn’t even three … American Gods is kaleidoscope that perpetually shifts, turns and twists through the vast and mountainous land of America, touching on different time periods, different cultures and different gods.
In truth, Gaiman takes a while to get going with this story. The first two quarters of American Gods feels like Gaiman tiptoeing through the story, almost shyly. The third quarter finds the story tightening and contracting yet becoming even more translucent and dreamlike – a territory Gaiman revels in – in its focus.
The fourth quarter, in which Gaiman’s wings unfurl and flap and take flight, is perfect. Every tangent feels meaningful, every anecdote is a New York Times Bestseller in its own right and every brick the narrative laid was uprooted, exploded and fused back together. To say American Gods is smart, intelligent and fulfilling would, you guessed it, do Gaiman a disservice.
The only mark one can place against American Gods is Gaiman’s consistent need to indulge. He has talked about how American Gods is a long book and how he loses focus and whilst these anecdotes are engaging, some fall by the wayside; some simply do not belong.
There was, however, a passage Gaiman removed from the novel. One in which Shadow meets the ultimate American God: Jesus. Gaiman talks about how he wrestled with leaving the passage in and taking it out, eventually omitting it, but after reading Gaiman’s take on Jesus, one wished he kept it in.
Nonetheless, you only need to look at the title of this post. American Gods: ‘Frighteningly Good’. It is scary how much detail Neil Gaiman puts into American Gods but that is the Gaiman way; the devil is in the details. So, do yourself a favour, coddle Gaiman on his journey and you will find a story that transcends the physical and emotional path and lives in the mental one.
Score – ★★★★ ½