Tuesday, March 22, 2011
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, is an epic book.
(You might wonder at the three covers...but I find them all beautiful. None, incidentally, is the one I read.)
Why do I call a book epic? Because its about 600 hundred pages? Well. That might just be large. (Actually, this is fantasy, and thats probably just about average for the genre.) Do I call it epic because it is about a mind boggling concept - that Gods exist, and that we take them with us when we go to different places, and our belief in them determines how powerful they are? Well. That's just a wonderful concept, but I've seen something similar, and I still wouldnt call it epic. No, I think the epicness about the book is that it deals with a whole country - America - and the Gods of a hundred different religions. It deals with large-scale battles fought in landscapes humanity cant even understand, and most of the book relies on things you can even imagine, actually, and yet the author still manages to leave you feeling like you know the characters, and understand them, and you start to care for them.
I think the biggest reason for this is the main character. Shadow is just amazing. He starts the book in prison, and is hit by the shock of his life - the death of his beloved wife, within the first twenty pages or so of the book. He's devastated, but brave - and then he enters the service of Mr. Wednesday, an odd guy who seems to have too much money and claims to be a God. Through the course of the book, Shadow's life is torn apart, he is faced with numerous revelations, and he finally learns how to be alive - and he's the reason I could stay hooked on to the book. Because Shadow is so very human, and yet so very interesting, that he balances out the extreme oddities of the various Gods without becoming annoying or boring. Other, supporting characters, are also great - especially people like Mr. Wednesday and Anansi, and the Zorya sisters, are really wonderfully written and deep and beautifully portrayed - and they add to the book in great ways.
But thats not the only reason why the book is amazing. The book is also amazing because of its plot. The entire book is a huge metaphor that juxtaposes the old religions with the new ones (technology, media, internet - the gods of the 21st century) and thus questions the role and importance of religion in our life. And there are many other themes - love, honesty, beauty, death, life, and the secret costs of a perfect life that add layers and layers to this book. I'm already looking forward to a re-read because I know the book will be full of new layers to uncover - a sure sign that the book is a good one. The book is helped by the author's writing style - somewhat rambling, full of many points-of-view and unafraid to deal with both sorrow and death.
Final thoughts: Bold, imaginative, epic. You're going to love American Gods if you like to examine the role of religion in your life, if you like fantasy, or if you just plain like odd. Because this book is definitely odd, but a good kind of odd. This author is starting to climb my list of favorites.