Tag Archives: myths

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Per the book jacket:

Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down.  His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job.  But <r. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming – a battle for the very soul of America… and they are in its direct path.

To say that is an overly simplistic and practically boring synopsis compared to what my experience of it would be an understatement.  This work takes myths and legends of gods from many cultures and gives them faces, expounds upon their personalities, and brings them to life in a manner that is not wholly unlike what Toni Morrison does with her magical realism, but without the ethnocentric and overly wrought depressive tones.  The reader is taken on journeys to different times to learn how gods were brought to America or simply how the gods came into being each story told with a different flavor and oft times different narrative voice.  My favorite passage of the entire 588 page tome came in the section called “Coming to America 1778” :

Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.”  With individual stories, the statistics become people – but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless.  Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears?  To see him from the inside?  And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child?  And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?

We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us.  They are covered with a smooth, safe nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.

This passage resonated with me a great deal and speaks to the heart of some of my views.  That said, there are a few areas where I would have preferred Gaiman to be slightly restrained in his sharing.  Mostly in that I really don’t like it when authors even mention characters needing to relieve themselves regardless of the vernacular used.  I get the idea that this is a way of demonstrating human action, that we might feel more grounded in the realism of a fantastic story with such details, but for me it’s extraneous.  When a character is human I assume they have to go to the bathroom upon waking and several more times throughout their day.  There’s also the matter of a few inconsistent point of views offered although they’re at least pretty clearly rendered even if mildly annoying when one happens across them.

But that’s the worst thing I have to say about this book and even to my thinking and ears it sounds awfully fussy.  Very much a worthwhile book to dedicate time to.  Gaiman is a master craftsman with an excellent literary voice and one of the most clever minds involved in modern fiction.  Is it any wonder I already have Fragile Things  on my TBR shelf?

Seriously, if you haven’t read it and enjoy GOOD fantasy, this is a must read.  And, heck, HBO is going to make a series out of it!

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