Reviewing American Gods
Book: American Gods | Author: Neil Gaiman
Cities: Seattle -- Dates: 3 to 18 July 2005
Recently I reviewed Six Degrees in this format, which came from an Information Commons project. I’m going to keep using it for a while and see how I feel about it.
- We are validated by society and society validates us
- Human action is often met with societal reaction
- Indifference is murder
- All creatures need attention
- Attention = respect = life
One Sentence Summary
The Gods believe that
Americais a bad place for gods; but in
Americabeing a God is actually a temp job.
Authors/Editors: Neil Gaiman
Source: Perennial Books
Publication: Book / Fiction
Publication Date: 2003
URL: Buy This Book
Keywords: myths, gods, Americana, migration, self-concept, religion, pagan, comparative religion, postmodern fiction
Disciplines: fiction, comparative religion, mythology
Lenses: Synchrony, Catalysis,
Levers: Rules, Resources, Thresholds, Feedback, Identity,
One Paragraph Review
Upon being released from Jail, Shadow finds his wife has been killed and a strange man has a job for him. As the story unfolds, Shadow is taken through the soul of America. Gods of old (Odin, Easter, Loki, etc.) walk our streets each day, some meek, some not. They are all losing market share, however to the new Gods (Media, Communications, Politics, Internet). A battle is brewing that promises to be bloody and personal. Shadow is its lightening rod. Gaiman takes us on a journey in this book that follows his previous path (Neverwhere, Good Omens) of postmodern weirdness, but somehow he has ingested a bit of Richard Russo. The results are stunning. A book that surprising in its personal depth without ever letting you know it’s going there.
One Page Review
I did not expect this book to be this book. I greatly enjoyed Neverwhere and Good Omens, but American Gods was stunning. What I didn’t expect was the transition from the largely populated realms of his previous books to a sparsely populated realm.
Gaiman’s America is not New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. It is the land that connects those places. A land so sparse one forgets one’s Gods.
Gods in Gaiman’s tale have a power source, or a means of sustenance – attention.
Gods historically have really liked attention, be it sacrifices, praying, festivals, sex, money, or even just acknowledgement. As people have moved to America, they’ve brought their Gods with them. As time goes on these people assimilate or die off, leaving their Gods orphaned.
So the Gods get by as best as Gods can.
But they are never alone and they are never a finite resource. People keep coming up with new ones, as fast as they can. Like Craig McCracken’s residents of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Gods are beings we’ve given life to and still to a certain extent believe in, even if we are inattentive or no longer feel they are relevant.
Because we can come up with new Gods, faith based market share becomes a hot commodity. Niche markets become a key to survival. And where that fails, trickery and lies will suffice.
Interwoven with this, is a story of a man who has been convicted of a crime, served his time and released. Then, as so often happens in books like this, he is confronted with an obvious and surreal plot point.
There are two types of heroes that arise here: the manic and the stoic. Here we have the stoic. The manic we can see in Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide or in the Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere – they are basically tossed on to a rollercoaster and scream all the way through. The stoic heroes are those that are tossed onto the roller coaster and say “I’m hungry.”
I have read pieces that compared this book to Vonnegut. I don’t think that’s the right comparison. Vonnegut excels at telling you a story from a variety of vantage points and allowing the plot to unfold non-linearly. This book is pretty linear.
I understand the comparison though. Vonnegut is one of a very few authors that can have totally weird situation that seem normal in context and that have a deep emotional resonance.
This book manages to do that. This is mostly done through a sub-plot that is nicely woven into the book. There is a small town the character finds himself in and he interacts with it. I really do pull Richard Russo out of that interaction. Russo is able to paint a very clear and real picture of his subjects’ towns. They are all, to some extent, my home town of Grand Island, Nebraska – even though they are usual in the rural East Coast.
This sub-plot is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship and really does make the book.
This book is definitely on J. LeRoy’ Must Read list.