There are thousands upon thousands of writers in the world with thousands upon thousands of stories they wish to share. Some writers will only ever write one story in their lives while others will go on to write countless tales, continuing to make their names heard across the globe. Neil Gaiman is one such writer who continues to bless the world with his dark fairy tales and unique fantasies. However, even great writers sometimes hit a bump in the road: a book that is either well-received or disliked. One such work for Gaiman is his American Gods.
Shadow has been released from prison and is ready to live a quaint life with his wife… only to discover that she died in a car crash only days before his release. Not only has his wife been killed, but he also does not have a job to return to. When flying home to attend her funeral, Shadow meets a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday on the plane. Mr. Wednesday knows about Shadow’s shady past and tells him that a storm is coming. This strange man with a glass eye offers Shadow a job and when Shadow accepts, his life changes forever.
As the title suggests, American Gods contains mythology… a lot of mythology. If a reader is knowledgeable in mythology as well as various forms of literature, then he or she will enjoy it more than a reader who is not as knowledgeable. This does not mean readers who do not know much of mythology will not enjoy it. Of course the mythology Gaiman did use contains the stories most already know about such as Greek and Norse mythology, but he also includes other lesser known mythological characters from Egyptian mythology and other various types. Gaiman is incredibly knowledgeable of his mythological characters and has Shadow meet many of them throughout the story, but the names can be tricky to follow if one is not familiar with which mythology they hail from.
Aside from the mythology, the story as a whole is, at the same time, both intriguing and dull. Gaiman’s writing style is nearly flawless and his knack for writing really comes to life in American Gods; however, the story the words convey could have had a bit more. Not more to the story, for it is already a lengthy piece of fiction, but the premise had potential and could have been a very fascinating story if some parts could have been changed or substituted.
Spoilers ahead… The “American Gods” Gaiman refers to are actually the different forms of modern technology. This is a day and age where people “worship” technology and view gadgets such as cell phones and television sets as “divine beings.” With previous believers now worshiping others gods, the gods of yore are being forgotten and beginning to fade away. The storm Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow about when they first meet refers to an upcoming battle between the old gods and the new. Technology versus mythology. Gaiman has his mythological characters mention the storm throughout the book’s entirety which makes the readers want to keep reading up to this epic battle. Unfortunately, all of the hype the characters build up as Shadow travels across the country is for a storm that… never comes.
With the lack of the storm, the story does not give readers the satisfaction of what they had been looking forward to for the past 500 pages. And in those previous 500 pages, there was a lot of talking taking place between the characters and not much action. It would have been fascinating to see how Gaiman would have executed a war between mythological gods and technological devices.
American Gods is not a waste of time to read, but it is also not the best book on the shelf and certainly not one of Gaiman’s best works. With multiple and accurate references to mythology and literature, Gaiman’s story reaches out to a wide audience and many have read it and will continue to try it. Perhaps those who are more knowledgeable in mythology would not mind the storm not striking and enjoy the story for how it is. Perhaps those who like to read more action rather than dialog may not be as interested in finishing the story. In the end, however, American Gods is a piece of fiction that should be read by whoever is interested so that the readers can come to their own conclusion.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on July 23, 2015.