9 Things About American Gods
You: Jeremy, are you telling us that you haven't read American Gods until now?
Me: Yes.... shut up.
Me: Oh like you don't have a book out there that seems like something you should have read but haven't because, oh I dunno, life?!"
Shadow, locked up for assault and his part of in a failed robbery finally leaves jail and meets the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday. Together they set out on a journey to discover the soul of America and unite the old gods left behind by the waves of people that settled America over the years.
But America is no land for gods. And even the new gods that have taken root have to fight for the small amount of belief they still have. As a storm brews, Shadow discovers the true nature of his homeland and his past.
1. America is the Only Country That Searches For Itself:
I'm not sure if that was the quote exactly but I think that was a quote from the book. Or the book made me think of that quote. I can't remember and I don't want to look it up. (Thus proving my American-essness) My point is wherever that idea came from, that's what the soul of American Gods is. Gaimen reflects on the this country in only the way and outsider —Neil Gaiman is an English-born ex-pat— could. And I imagine the journey his characters embark on is not unlike his own through this great land.
2. America is no land for gods.
This is a central theme and the main conflict. Shadow acts as Mr. Wednesday's driver and bodyguard and the two set out to recruit gods, the physical manifestations of the beliefs and traditions of the hundreds of cultures that people brought through the centuries to this new land. These gods were brought to America by their people and abandoned with little belief to sustain them. A battle begins brewing between these old gods and the new ones. Gods like Media, Technology, Men In Black and many others, you know, modern American Gods.
The point is even the new gods feel belief in them slipping as the collective American mind moves to the next bright and shiny new thing leaving even those that are relatively successful scrambling to keep what's theirs.
3. The American Conlfict:
...Which, come to think on it, one could probably sum up the divisions in this country pretty well with that idea. Those that feel that the country has moved on and left them behind getting angry at those that benefit from the new status quo. Meanwhile those momentarily on top desperately trying to pull up the ladder behind them while howling at those trying to revert the country to some imagined golden age.
And in the middle a mysterious puppet-master who just thrives on chaos...
4. You Need To Find You Some Jesus
It's understandable, given the way religion is regarded in this country, that Gaiman would want to steer clear of any reference to God or gods that people currently worship. After all, this book is less about religion specifically and more about the faith, belief and reverence that is part of the American Experience in all it's forms. Not just piousness in church but also the worship of the broadcasted images and the venerated purchase at Walmart.
And yet, Christianity is so intertwined with American culture to not have the American Jesus make an appearance seems like a pretty stark omission.
5. ... And it fact it was:
My copy was the 10th anniversary edition with little bells and whistles stuck in including a few 'deleted scenes'. One of which was a brief moment where Shadow runs into a pack of Jesi (one Jesus, two Jesi... get it?) who changes form even has He explains his place in the American psyche. Gaiman says it just didn't feel like it belonged in the book. I feel like something was missing from the story without it. He's likely much smarter than me so I'll default to his wisdom to have not included it but I'm glad it was printed somewhere. It gives a window the the expanded Universe that must have been part of the creative process for this book.
6. That's Why They Call It The 'American Dream'. You Gotta Be Asleep:
Gaiman captured something else in the tail of the the old gods vs new gods. That screaming desperation of a people who were sold a bill of goods and then left hanging. As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday make their way through back roads from little town to little town, sub plots start to emerge. Young people trying to get out before its too late, older folk clinging to what's left and towns drying up and blowing away. Outside pockets of prosperity people are hurting and the pain is revealed here.
7. The Cycle Continues:
...Which, you know, is part of the American Experience as well and always has been. As the book eludes to, there were people here before White people arrived with their own gods and values. They too got swept away for bigger, brighter and shinier things. At some point it's less a bug in our nation's operating system and more like a feature.
8. The Verdict ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐:
Obviously an amazing book. And growing more relevant as time goes on. So much so that, apart from the already antiquated references to technology, it's hard to believe that it was written twenty years ago. But then again, while some things have changed, others have not.
Plus all the weird, wild, fanciful imagery that Gaiman brings to all his work. Yes, check it out. But, as someone who started the mini-series and then stopped to read the book first... read the book first. The mini series is good but they had to expand the world considerably to stretch it out to... three seasons now? The book is nice and self contained and I feel is better enjoyed then expanded on.
9. One Final Thing About Mead:
Early in the book Shadow has to drink mead, fermented honey wine, to seal a pact with Mr. Wednesday and the description is... not pleasant. And I just want to say this, Mr. Gaiman, if you've not had good mead, give me a call! I make some pretty nice vinatages myself. I also know people. Do not whatever hell-brew someone tried to pass off to you as mead form the entire basis for your experience. It can be amazing.
So just know, that, if there ever comes a day that I have the opportunity to meet you Mr. Gaiman, I'm bringing mead. Make peace with this now.
I eagerly await your restraining order.