Shadow is doing his time in prison but the end is in sight. A few days before his release, he finds out his wife has died in a car accident, and due to her death, he’s being released early. In shock, he heads home to the funeral only to find out his wife died in a precarious situation involving another man. He feels little remorse and decides it’s time for change. He takes a job offer from a man named Mr. Wednesday who needs someone to drive him around and protect him every once in a while. Shadow is a man trying to find himself or just forget everything around him depending on how you want to see it. His employment with Wednesday sets him up to meet a lineup of interesting people challenging Shadow’s beliefs in who and what he is.
The idea that gods were brought to the US, essentially immigrated here with the people that worshiped them, is an interesting one. Once those beliefs, prayers, adoration, whatever you want to call it, are replaced by other things in society — think celebrity — the gods begin to diminish. This imagines what would happen to those gods if everyone stopped believing in them. And, yes, it comes to war, but not the kind of war you’re probably thinking.
Shadow is an interesting character. He’s quiet, thoughtful (at times), and even though he’s done things in his life to land him jail, he’s not a bad person and really does his best to do what he thinks is right. He’s slow on the uptake when it comes to understanding the gods but gets it when necessary. He sort of lumbers through the story but that’s what I liked about him. There was no pressure with him. Everything took place around him and he just accepted and moved on — think blind faith if you will. He never professes to any belief system but he’s able to take them all on individually when he has to. I can see how for some people he’s not a captivating character but that’s what I liked about him. He was the grounding force for all the gods around him.
Now the gods, and they weren’t the only ones to make appearances here, several folk heroes get a bit of honor as well. Gaiman’s portrayal of the gods is interesting and I liked that they had human qualities even if those qualities, and vices, wouldn’t hurt them in the end. I wasn’t able to place every god, some were obscure, but each added something to the story and I didn’t feel any were dropped in for entertainment purposes. That’s something I always appreciate about an author; not everything has to be wrapped up nice and tidy but I want characters to have a purpose.
I read American Gods while taking a writing class and it was the perfect time to read it for me. The elements of storytelling were on full display here and I felt each time I turned a page I learned something new, in addition to being fully entertained. It’s a great piece of storytelling.
By Neil Gaiman