It isn’t often that I’ll give a book a five star rating, but as the hover text on the stars here indicates, this was an amazing book. I’m used to being disappointed. I’m used to loose ends and unexplained mysterious happenings, particularly in fantasyland. But American Gods is quite a story. Elements in it reminded me quite a bit of things I’d expect to find in a Stephen King novel, but with Neil Gaiman’s distinct touch.
This is a book I’d heard a lot about. I’ve owned it for a few years and always meant to read it, but the time had to be right and I’m glad I finally sat down with it. The beginning was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. It sucked me in right from the start. For a main character and story narrator, I found Shadow to be curiously detached from the happenings around him. The more I read, the more I realized this had to have been by design. The entire book is an exercise (as is most good fiction) in suspension of disbelief, so if it felt that way to me, it had to feel that way to the person living through it. Anything else would have felt fraudulent, given the happenings of the book.
I don’t like to reveal plots and story arcs in reviews so that people can remain unspoiled. I will say without ruining anything that the title is fairly self-explanatory, and the book as a whole… well, one of the chapters goes like this:
There was a girl, and her uncle sold her, wrote Mr. Ibis in his perfect copperplate handwriting.
That is the tale, the rest is detail.
Gaiman then spends the rest of the chapter filling in the details beautifully. That this part of the book stood out for me so sharply is interesting. The book is filled with asides, with characters who are real characters in the most descriptive sense of the word. My thoughts keep circling around to Stephen King — there are a number of similarities with his work here, more than in some other Gaiman novels — but in this case that’s a very good thing. It’s the pervasive sense not necessarily of creepiness, but of things being just slightly off, just slightly left of center. It’s a portrait of a world askew, a portrait of humanity and super-humanity, a story of a world out of balance, of dreams and nightmares, and ultimately of release. I love the book’s complexity and harshness, but I also love its kindly and encouraging moments. It’s an oddly balanced book, like it’s sitting on the head of a pin wobbling for a long time and you’re never sure which way it’s going to land. Ultimately, it’s pretty satisfying. Even if you don’t find it to be so, I think you’ll still find it well worth the read.