Long ago, I made it my mission to read every Neil Gaiman book I could find. So when I saw the first trailer for the Starz adaptation of American Gods, I knew it was way past the time when I should have read the book. Luckily, I was able to read it through before beginning the show, and now, it’s a definite must read for everyone interested in Americana, fantasy, mythology, and just plain good literature.
The premise of American Gods is weird and awesome: a normal guy named Shadow Moon (okay, he’s not that normal) was sentenced to 3 years in prison for some unnamed crime. In the beginning of the book he’s due to be released by the end of the week, looking forward to returning home to his wife Laura. A couple days before his release, he learns his wife and best friend have died in a car crash (no spoilers). Heartbroken, he makes his way home to attend his wife’s funeral, and on the way he meets the enigmatic, whip-smart, smooth-talking Mr. Wednesday, a grizzled middle-aged man who ropes Shadow into being his assistant/bodyguard, and who has some seriously weird and dark secrets.
Turns out Mr. Wednesday is none other than the Norse god Odin, displaced from his homeland by the Scandinavian immigrants to America, whose belief in the god “brought” him here. Shadow’s alliance with Wednesday embroils him in a war for the soul of America—a war between the Old Gods and the New. The New Gods being things like Technology, Media, and the stock market, and the Old Gods being Odin, Kali, and the Russian god Czernobog, among a dozen others.
I mean, the whole thing is allegorical but pure, perfect fantasy. I’ve said before that the best thing about Gaiman’s books is that the magic never makes sense, but it’s always consistent, and always unique. Anyone with a love for mythology, whether it’s African, Norse, or Native American will absolutely adore this book. Thematically, the book’s soul lies in its exploration of the true “identity” of America. And results in amazing lines like these:
“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
“The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.”
Right?! Seriously, if you still haven’t read this book, go out and read it now. Then watch the show, because it’s also awesome, though in different ways. Get it on Amazon or add it to your shelf on Goodreads!