View from the window seat:
Shadow has spent the last three years in prison. Right before he’s set to get out, his wife dies in a mysterious car crash. On the way home, Mr. Wednesday offers him a job. But who is Mr. Wednesday and what will this job actually involve? Shadow soon discovers that the gods are real and that a storm is coming, one that will set the new gods against the old and throw Shadow in the middle of a conflict he’s only just starting to understand. Meanwhile, he faces both unsolved disappearances in a town called Lakeside and someone he needs to make peace with before he can move on with his life.
This epic novel is an extremely hard one to review. There are so many layers to the story. The surface layer is about Shadow, a man who keeps his head down, doesn’t ask questions, and does his time. Shadow at times can be frustrating with his lack of curiosity and how he simply does what Wednesday tells him to do without question. Shadow can also be brave and kind; he’s the kind of man who gives money to a waitress when Wednesday stiffs her $10.
The second layer is about the gods. The old, forgotten ones are weary and sad. Their power wanes because no one in America remembers them or worships them any more. The new gods are arrogant and convinced that they will win the war against the old. Both sides have their flaws and their strengths. Gaiman does an incredible job at making these gods have personalities that are so human and so natural in the modern world, drawing from religions from cultures all over the world. Shadow’s encounters with the various gods make this novel so enjoyable and entertaining.
The deepest layer is the presentation of American culture through the new gods. Americans worship technology and media, our obsessions fueling the gods’ powers. I loved this concept so much, of America having its own set of gods that are made strong not through the sacrifice of blood but through the sacrifice of time and money.
My favorite parts were the narrations of individuals bringing their gods with them over land and sea to America throughout the ages. These tragic stories show how the old gods came to America in the hearts and minds of their followers only to be forgotten later.
At times both tragic and darkly humorous, American Gods is an epic novel about American culture and the evolution of gods told through one man’s journey to truly feel alive.