Book Review: American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Central Iowa used to get hit by a lot of bad storms — thunderstorms, snowstorms, even the occasional thundersnow or funnel cloud. We’ve had our share of flash floods and white-out blizzards. But for the past year or so it seems like every storm that approaches somehow swirls perfectly around the city, never hitting us. This is good news for our basements, but bad news for people like me who love severe weather. A friend of mine explained to me that the weather bubble is caused by the Ledges state park, which splits storms off toward the north and south. I’m convinced there’s a budding young witch in the city who doesn’t know her own power just yet. Either way, storms show up on our radar and they look big and powerful and they approach… but they just seem to always be approaching, threatening, never actually hitting us, and then suddenly we realize they’ve passed and we hardly even saw a drop of precipitation.

That’s kind of what American Gods felt like to me.

It’s an interesting premise. Each culture has its own folklore and small gods and magical creatures who thrive on belief, and when people of those cultures immigrated to America, they sort of created American copies of those creatures. Many of them live among us and appear human and have ordinary traits like bad cooking and crappy cars and overactive sex drives. They’re hard to kill and their powers are mostly useless, and they’re not thriving here anymore because new generations of Americans don’t believe in them. We believe in the internet and television and celebrity instead, and we’ve created our own new gods. So the old gods and are rising up against the new.

Caught in the middle of all this is Shadow, who is such a blank canvas of a character i don’t even know how to feel about him. He’s not bad. He’s not really good, either. He just goes with the flow. He’s not stupid, but he doesn’t have thoughts or opinions or even questions about things for the vast majority of the book. He starts to give a shit at the end, but up until then i kind of don’t get him.

The story is mainly a midwestern road trip. Kind of boring and unglamorous. The characters are actually driving around the midwest in shitty vehicles, stopping at tourist traps and small towns, mainly to have brief chats with god people. Nothing much happens. It’s a story of a gathering storm, but the storm doesn’t even break. It gives one little clap of thunder and a few fat raindrops, so to speak, and then it’s over. A few mildly cool things and one giant and rather perplexing allegory happen at the end, but all in all i was left feeling underwhelmed.

There were a few short stories sprinkled throughout the first half about people who came to America and brought gods with them, or about the gods doing their weird things here in America. Those were kind of interesting, and i was sorry when they stopped happening. There wasn’t enough explanation of the American gods’ backstories for my taste. I could have and should have done a lot of Wikipedia searching while i read this book, but i was just trying to get through it.

I don’t really understand why there was a murder mystery sub-plot. I don’t think it added much to the story; it felt unnecessary and not very well developed.

I read this book because a lot of my friends really like it, and because i was in the mood for a darker fantasy. I thought it was enjoyable enough, but i don’t feel like i got it. It may be one of those stories that’s more fun the second time around when you know what’s really going on, so maybe i’ll listen to the author’s extended edition some day.

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