“Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods.”(pg.129)
Let me start out with that fact that my introduction to Neil Gaiman was going to see Coraline in 3D when it came out in 2009. I was amazed. I was enthralled. I put Gaiman at the top if my “Authors To Be Read” list. Alas, I did not get around to actually reading him until this year. (I know, I know but I just never got to him. Don’t judge!) I picked up a couple of his titles from Bogart’s. One was American Gods. I was amazed. I was enthralled. I loved every page of this book. I thought it was smart and funny. It was endearing and occasionally disgusting. Everything that a great mystery should be.
Gaiman’s style is just so cool. It reads much like a graphic novel in the sense that I feel his paragraphs would resemble a storyboard. Every line works toward giving you a total sense of not just the setting, but the overall tone as well. I could see each place that we found Shadow as a fully realized place in reality. I swear I could hear the breezes and feel the moon shining as I read. However, this does not lead to the book feeling drawn out like a Thomas Hardy novel, whose landscape descriptions could take an entire chapter and make the reader want to pull their hair out. Instead, it creates tension and intrigue. I also loved the small breaks in time and space with the additions of other voices from the American Experience. I capitalize that because each vignette seems to make up a separate essay on just that subject. They are just representations of the kind of lives that make up America. Most of the time they pertain to the story line, but others help define America. It never confuses you, just increases your understanding of what I believe Gaiman hopes to achieve with this novel.
The use of “magic” throughout the book is fun, but is also a rather subtle way at poking fun at religion. Shadow does slight of hand from the beginning and lots of the gods have a variety of powers from super strength to morphing their appearance. It helps that wonderful tension and intrigue grow since you never know what any character is capable of at any time. It also helps Gaiman with an easy way out of some sticky situations, but is still very believable. I love the use of magic in books, as long as it is woven throughout the story and doesn’t just pop up when it is convenient for the author. Gaiman does this brilliantly.
I also liked that Gaiman never has to explain the gods to you outright. Usually he just lets their personality within the confines of the narrative give you a context for the type of god that they are. There are no wordy explanations of where the god is from or what civilization worshiped them. A prior knowledge of the large pantheon of worldly god is helpful, but is not necessary. In fact, I learned a lot about gods that I only knew by name while reading this book. I felt educated by the end. Is that not what we want from any novel? I liked so damn much about Gaiman’s novel that I have to stop myself from gushing any further. Read this when you get the chance. The size of it may intimidate, but please don’t let it. I promise it goes down easier than most.