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Reviews of American Gods (2001)

Review by bob over mars (2008-08-12)
I read this not long after Neverwhere, which was pretty darn good, but American Gods is just ... wow. I don't know what to say, really, I've never read anything quite like it.

It is an almost completely unpredictable journey, yet it is also unsurprising when bizarre things happen, most of all becourse it is the way the main character experiences it: without shock or emotion. It is odd indeed, he does not really seem to be from this world, much like mostly every other character in the story, and I think that is what made the twisted logic of the book become logical to me, in time.

As much as I loved the main storyline, what took me by surprise was how enjoyable the 'Coming to America' side stories where. They actually made me interested in learning about these ancient cultures and their gods. It was unclear to me at first where they fit into the storyline/character roster, but it all seemed to make sense along the way.

The story might have seemed aimless at times (not that it bothers me when what was going on was so interesting and always kept me speculating), but I thought it was wrapped up nicely in the end, neatly tying together all the lose ends (I think) that might have been left on the way. All in all, American Gods was one of the most imaginative, engrossing novels I've read.

(This review refers to the 2001 version titled “American Gods”)

Review by rinabeana (2006-05-06)
Synopsis: You could, of course, read the synopsis on Neil Gaiman's website. That might be better because I'm finding it a little hard to summarize. However... Shadow seems like a pretty normal guy, except for the fact that he's at the end of a three-year prison stint. A few days before his scheduled release, he finds out that his wife died in a car accident. Feeling somewhat adrift at this point, he is recruited by Mr. Wednesday to be his able-bodied assistant, without knowing why since he's not paid to ask questions. He comes to learn that the old gods (scores of whom were transported to America by those who believed in them) are facing an impending battle with the new gods (those of television, automobiles, technology, etc.), who seem to have more power at this point.

Comments: I wasn't quite sure what to make of this book when I started reading it. I was sucked in by the story pretty quickly, though! As I was pulled along seeing things mostly from the perspective of Shadow, I felt the need to have all my questions answered, as he did (or maybe I needed them answered more than he did!). I absolutely loved his character. He seemed so down-on-his-luck, while at the same time more influential than he realized. He was so resigned to his lot, and so matter-of-fact about how he felt. I loved all his one-liners where he answered questions or comments very literally. Sarcasm had no effect on him whatsoever. I quite admired his unfailing calm and my heart broke for him when Laura (his deceased wife) told him that she was dead, but he wasn't alive.

Reading this made me wish that I had more knowledge about other cultures and religions. I recognized the names of some of the gods, but I think the large part of them were lost on me. That didn't necessarily hinder my understanding of the story, but I can't help but think I may have gotten even more out of it if I knew the back stories on all the gods. I will plead my "I'm a chemist" excuse for my ignorance. That said, I was enthralled by so many of the characters. I found it quite amusing that Media was "perfectly made-up, perfectly coiffed. She reminded him of every newscaster he'd ever seen on morning television sitting in a studio that didn't really resemble a living room." I adored Sam Black Crow for her honesty and blind support of Shadow. My heart went out to Chad Mulligan with his lonely life in an overly friendly town. Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis were the coolest undertakers ever!

I guess I could keep aimlessly babbling, but suffice it to say that this was an incredibly well-crafted story that had me hooked from beginning to end!

This was my favorite passage:

"We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness. All of the things that Shadow had done in his life of which he was not proud, all the things he wished he had done otherwise or left undone, came at him then in a swirling storm of guilt and regret and shame, and he had nowhere to hide from them. He was as naked and as open as a corpse on a table, and dark Anubis the jackal god was his prosector and his prosecutor and his persecutor."
—Part Three, Chapter Sixteen

Review by computermonkey (2005-09-08)
I have mixed feeling about this book.

I really enjoyed Gaiman's writing style. It's very engaging and I felt sucked right in to Shadow's world. The characters, locations, and mythology were all fantastic.

On the other hand, it's a very hard book to follow. Describing the plot of the book in one sentence is almost impossible.

I like to think that the reader of the book is on the same path as Shadow, never knowing what is going to happen next or even competely understanding what has just happened.

Keeping that in mind it's an enjoyable ride and unlike any book I've ever read.

Review by clong (2005-06-25)
This is the third Gaiman book I have read (after Neverwhere, and Stardust), and I’d have to say that it is my favorite of the three. Each of the three tells the tale of a more or less normal man from the real world who finds himself in a parallel fantasy world, fighting for a cause or to right a wrong. I think the reasons I liked American Gods the best of three are (1) its rather more nuanced sense of morality, with characters painted in shades of gray rather than black and white, and (2) its rather darker ending. Gaiman’s use of mythology from a host of cultures is very effective. It is a book that moves from very funny, to thought-provoking, to suspenseful, and at times even horrifying.

Review by rwagnon (2004-08-11)
Written well enough to want to continue, but not really very interesting. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I can't see the point of the story. Some characters and their stories seemed trite and simply thrown in. Sort of a gimmicky book.

Review by sTalking_Goat (2003-12-17)
I'm going to get hammered for this, but frankly I think its overrated. Gaiman is good, but I've seen better. The premise was wonderful but the result was a little underwhelming. His writing is sparse, its reminds me of Octavia Butler in a lot of ways except she's a lot better than he is. Its not a bad book by any stretch of the word, I just don't think it lives up to the hype. But then I suppose nothing really ever does.

Review by hulabob (2003-09-02)
One thing that I notice that has not been mentioned in the other reviews here is this: Neil Gaiman has a fantastic knowledge of mythology. His use of various cultures' myths and folklore characters is one of the things that gives this book such depth. Gaiman's research into this area must be a passion for him, as it appears in many of his works, but most notably American Gods and certain areas of The Sandman series. For anyone with an interest in various mythological characters in a modern world this book is a must read!

Review by LJOL (2003-07-01)
I really enjoyed this peice of art. And I gave it 10/10 but i think 9/10 had been better at the moment. I have said that this book is Gaimans worst book but that ain't entierly true either. It was the first book I read by Gaiman and therefor I have newer impressions of Neverwhere and Stardust, but when i read it I was extatic, so maybe it deserved its 10 afterall. The prose is very very good and I loved the plot and the characters (wich some people here didn't seem to do) this book also lead me into the fantastic world of Gaimans novels and for that I am very thankful.

I can absolutely understand that it got the Hugo Award and the Bram Stoker Award. This is a Great book and a must-read. Gaiman is the master of language and imagination.

Review by Sillywabbit (2003-03-14)
American Gods is a dark and edgy journey though America. In atmosphere it felt a bit like twin peaks. That's a good thing! As the story progresses there are small side dishes that deal with things that are directly or indirectly related to the main plot and add to the overall flavour of the work. Some of the stories could stand as short stories by themselves. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Arabic taxi driver. Full of whit and colour. I enjoyed this book but the ending left me a cold. Well, let us say, the ending before the ending, so to speak.

Neil Gaiman has the soul of a poet. As always his prose is elegant and beautiful. American Gods is a good book but I have to say it's not a GREAT book. I'll start by saying I have the utmost respect and admiration for Neil Gaimon. He writes DAMN well and there is very few that can equal his prose and style. But this book has a few problems for me personally. Plot, where is it? Characters felt shallow. And as I have already mentioned the ending left me cold. It felt like he had simply run out of ideas. But do I recommend that you read American Gods? Hell yeah!

Review by TNH (2003-03-10)
(Before I start, let me say American Gods was NOT plagiarized from Last Call by Tim Powers, as both authors would simultaneously be the first to tell you. Neither is it plagiarized from Patricia Geary's Strange Toys, nor from her Living in Ether, nor from Francine Prose's Marie Laveau, nor from the collected works of Roger Zelazny, ditto Manly Wade Wellman; nor (for that matter) from Tim Powers' Expiration Date, or Earthquake Weather, or any of Powers' other excellent novels. These American magic realist tropes have been in play since Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving were sprats. End of rant.)

Neil Gaiman's American Gods has a problem in common with the best of Roger Zelazny: The story reads so effortlessly, and has such a smooth surface finish, that it's easy to underestimate how artfully (and craftily) he's put it together. Neil has a great sense of the magic of liminal spaces, and is a master at working with fragile materials.

In the case of this novel, a partial list of his ingredients would include second careers, roadside attractions, old-world gods in America, blue highways, up-and-coming indigenous gods, nighttime visits by the beloved dead, and the rituals of small-town life. As usual, he doesn't let his material attenuate into wispy twee might-have-beens that nobody cares about. He also (as usual) avoids the opposite error, which is to over-concretize it to the point where it'll no longer hold a charge on its own, and has to rely on whatever spark the obliging reader can provide. This story leaves its props and sets more magical than they were when he found them.

And the story itself? It's about a guy who's unhappier on the day he gets out of prison than he was the the whole time he was inside. He's offered an interesting job by a spooky old man named Wednesday. Many adventures follow.

There aren't nearly enough books like this one. Have fun reading it.

Review by macdonst (2003-03-08)
I've always enjoyed Gaiman's work and while American Gods is an enjoyable read I find it hard to believe that he hasn't been sued over this obvious plagerism of Tim Powers Last Call (1992). The seemingly new idea of gods running around the world was done early and better by Powers.

Review by fished (2003-03-07)
The Good

The language of this book is simply wonderful. Also, the premise is interesting (even if it does seem like something out of a short-run Marvel Comic). Gaiman speculates that the "old Gods" are still running amok around North America -- mostly moribund, but still very much alive.

The Bad

The plot? Was there a plot? I didn't see a plot! Seriously, this book lacks in the plot department. Two thirds of the way through the book, I still had no idea what was going on. There were many wonderful "outtakes" vaguely reminiscient of Steinbeck and obviously designed to give "flavor" to the novel. However, the flavor was not to my taste -- particularly in the absence of a strong story. (Contrast Steinbeck, who gives both strong plot and strong characterizations and situations.)

Overall

The book gives a certain disestablishmentarian thrill with its use of Pagan themes and ready violence. However, in many ways it seems quite sophomoric. The use of language, however, is wonderful and makes it worth reading, if barely. 4 out of 10.

Review by dogmatix (2003-03-07)
The idea behind American Gods is a pretty good one and a lot of fun to think about. Gaiman does a decent job of taking this idea and converting it into a story, creating some interesting characters and taking them to some great places. The problem, in my opinion, is the writing. While reading it, I kept getting the feeling that it was too simplistic. I was constantly pulled out of the story and wondering whether this book was written by a published author or by a high school student. I suppose you have to write to the audience that is most likely to read your book, and in this case, it would be young adults and teens, but it didn't feel so much like reading literature as it did reading pulp. Perhaps this was intentional, but it left me feeling unenthusiastic about both the book and the writer.

Review by Cocteau (2003-03-02)
American Gods is a fabulous book. American Gods seems to be the most mature of his prose novels when compared with Neverwhere or Stardust, and maybe because of that it loses some of the fun of those books, especially Neverwhere. Still, this is widely compensated by a better and more mature literary skill, an amazingly well-informed plot and just genius storytelling capacities.

Review by (2003-02-27)
Gaiman spins an interesting tale. A fairy tale from grownups with inspiration found in mythology. It was a spooky story of a cold and lonely world with no place for humankinds affection of yesterday.

Review by darkgray (2003-02-27)
Upon his death, Gaiman is likely to be promoted to God of Language, after the way he writes this book. Reading this was a delight.




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