Books on GIF #42 — 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books — from bestsellers to classics to unearthed gems — told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman.
American GodsI know a lot of people love this book and, I'm sorry guys, I tried really hard to love it, too, but I just couldn't. Sure, it was weird and spooky, but I kept wondering:'American Gods' asked me to suspend my disbelief too many times for a story that was confusing, didn't really go anywhere and was, worst of all: starts with a guy named Shadow — just Shadow — who's about to be released from prison. He's supposed to meet up with his wife, but she is killed in a car accident a day earlier. On his way to her funeral, he encounters a mysterious older man named Mister Wednesday. Wednesday knows all sorts of things about Shadow that a stranger couldn't, and Shadow finds this unsettling. Just when Shadow thinks he's given Wednesday the slip, he shows up again, and they start drinking mead together — it turns out that Wednesday is the Norse god Odin — as Wednesday tries to convince Shadow to work for him as his driver and assistant. Now things start to get really weird. A tall leprechaun named Mad Sweeney shows Shadow how to do a coin trick where he plucks some kind of magic gold coin from the air. Later, Shadow tosses that coin into his wife's grave, and it brings her back to life. She becomes his zombie bodyguard and rescues him from danger more than once. Wednesday tells Shadow that a war is coming between the old gods of immigrants and the new gods created by technology and government, so they go on a road trip to find the old gods and rally them to the war effort. Along this journey across middle America, where they encounter Johnny Appleseed, the pagan manifestation of Easter and a bunch of other gods I've never heard of, Shadow sleeps and has weird dreams of a man with a buffalo head, and then he wakes to meet a god or rob a bank or acquire a coin from the moon, and then he goes back to sleep and has another weird dream, and then more sleeping and more dreaming and more driving and more random gods and before you know it 300 pages have gone by and you're like:'s true identity is revealed while also not revealed. There's an unnecessary side plot in Wisconsin with some missing kids. A Muslim traveling salesman has a gay encounter with a cab driver who turns out to be a god, and then the salesman becomes that god. The Queen of Sheba devours a man in a sexual reverse birth. I mean: somehow, this guy was missing:, the gist of all this is that when people immigrate to America — either from Europe, Asia, Africa or across the land bridge at the dawn of time — they bring their gods with them. And those gods are similar to real people in that they drink, drive cars and have jobs. The gods got weaker as belief in them fades, and now their very existence is threatened by new gods such as the Internet, the Media and the Government. This is an interesting idea, but I feel the book got too bogged down in going from god to god and trying to show the reader how neat they all are that it didn't really tackle the issue of belief with any real seriousness or depth. I didn't like how any space for mystery and wonder was just bricked over with confusion and tropes gleaned from reading Marx and Nietzsche. I didn't like how belief was reduced to a scarce resource like lumber or electricity. Sure, Odin might be running low on what gives him power, and of course religion is a human construct, but what about spirituality, everyday grace and the sublime that people feel and understand not just when they're at church? They are real, perhaps more real than any god who might walk among us. But there seems no room for any of that among these gods. That's cynical. And sad. And boring. you think I'm wrong, that's cool. Feel free to shoot me an email and let's discuss it. Gaiman wrote in his introduction that readers either love or hate 'American Gods.' I'm sad to say I'm in the latter category.

My Rating:'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman was originally published in 2001 by HarperCollins. The tenth anniversary 'author's preferred text' edition was published in 2011 by William Morrow. 522 pages.

What's next?In the coming weeks I'll review 'Fates and Furies' by Lauren Groff, 'Eve's Hollywood' by Eve Babitz and 'Ties' by Domenico Starnone, among others.

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* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!