The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

American Gods by Neil Gaiman - a book review


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My edition of this book has a short interview in the back with Gaiman and a series of book discussion questions. I suspect this is because the book was such a major hit and wound up in book circles being discussed.

I skipped the questions. Read the interview.

While this book managed to nab a stack of major awards, I'm not so impressed. Explain in a moment.

The premise is a sort of Ragnarok with the old world gods, Thor, Ganesh, Horus, etc getting ready to pitch down with new world gods, Media, Technology, etc. The protagonist, Shadow, is pulled into the fray and only at the end do we learn exactly why.

Gaiman does a good job of overlaying a critique of modern society on a somewhat historical perspective. His character development is pretty good, ranging to amazing in a couple of points. But I just could not believe Shadow was the main man. I kept expecting Gaiman to pull a George R.R. Martin and Shadow would really be a shadow and dead.

The author even discusses, in the interview section, Shadow did not lend himself to a tremendous amount of character development. An ex con who got paroled and was a model prisoner, Shadow walks through the story line following directions and showing little to no initiative. In that sense, Shadow is the perfect example of the American populace he's meant to emulate in the novel. Do this, don't do that and when you don't have orders, be as invisible as possible.

Shadow's redemption at the end is too little too late and, just like the society he represents, can't put forth the sustained effort to make a real difference and effect real change.

Call me jaded and cynical, but when I read a book of fiction, especially one that grabs the Nebula and Hugo, I expect more than what I already see and know about my fellow Americans. Failing that, I want to see something that makes me want to get involved.

Frankly, I could have put this book down at any point and walked away without looking back. I didn't because Gaiman also wrote Neverwhere, a book I've read several times and one which continues to stir me intensely.

What I do very very very much appreciate about American Gods is Gaiman is fresh. Rather than rewrite the same book, as far too many authors do, the author takes a new slant, a new approach, new characters and heads off into new directions. That, and Neverwhere, is why I did read through the book.

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