Book 17 in Cannonball Read 2
American Gods is a decent entry in the Gaiman canon, though I can’t help feeling a little worn out by the repetitive nature of some of the familiar themes and motifs Gaiman uses and reuses. Perhaps this is why most people don’t read all seven novels by an author in one year.
American Gods is about the various folk and myth gods who have followed immigrants to America - Anansi the spider, Kali the Hindu goddess, the Egyptian Anubis, and the Slavic dark god Czernobog - and their struggle with the modern American gods of the internet, tv, and telephone. The entry point to this story is Shadow, the main character, who has just been released from prison the find his wife Laura dead and his world turned upside down. He is roped into a looming war between the old and new gods by Wednesday, a strange man who appears to have orchestrated the death of Laura to get Shadow involved.
All of the trademark things I love about Gaiman are here, most notably the overwhelming compassiona and sympathy he has for his characters. I don’t think there’s a single (human) character in any of his novels who is portrayed without some underlying understanding - maybe Graham Coates from Anansi Boys, but other than that, even the Antichrist in Good Omens is given a heart and a conscience. But American Gods, which I’ve often heard described as Gaiman’s best work, felt too meandering, with Shadow stuck too long in a small town in Wisconsin with nothing to do but get to know the locals and go on occassional errands for Wednesday. It’s laying the groundwork for some later developments, but is not very interesting on its own. Laura rising from the dead and acting as Shadow’s deus ex machina a few times is pretty interesting though, as is his relationship to a dead, but still mobile, wife, that he can’t seem to let go off.
Then there’s the end to American Gods, which was a bit too similar to Good Omens for my taste. (SPOILERS, clearly). in both books, two sides of a centuries long struggle are gearing up far an all-out war, only to be stopped at the last minute by a speech about how we should all just get along. Yes, that’s a glib description, but it felt like an ending tacked on so Gaiman could have it both ways and portray the run-up to the war while avoiding any actual destruction.
I still enjoy Gaiman’s writing style very much, and my feeling is that I am a bit oversaturated with Gaiman-ness, just as I was with Wodehouse - and both are actually fantastic writers, so my lukewarm feelings probably reflect more on my own over-zealousness to consume an entire library, combined with my reverse confirmation bias (things I expect to be good are often disappointing because of my expectations, things I expect to be bad often impress me with basic competence).