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Sunday, March 23, 2008

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

(With apologies, dear readers, for the lack of posts. Spare time has become less common these days, at least over at Chez Casa Troll. Still, a few brief paragraphs on a recently-read novel. It turns out this is even an Easter post -- though you'll have to read the book to understand the several connections.)

If I could offer only one sentence to describe American Gods: this is a slow--but very intriguing--novel.

Shadow is released from prison only to learn his wife has been killed. The emotionally-dulled Shadow is hardly affected. (Odd, no? But the reader will slowly realize the depth of Shadow's loss.) A certain Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as errand-boy and bodyguard. Under Wednesday's guidance and, sometimes, protection, Shadow drifts across the American landscape, always plodding behind his employer -- who is leader of a nascent rebellion of the old and weak immigrant gods against the new American gods.

The setting is one that is familiar to anyone who has taken long drives -- caffeine hazes and cramping legs -- along the backroads of the midwest US of A. I've driven into many dusty towns no longer on the highway, dingy and faded places that seem to have barely-heard echoes of memories drifting down empty streets. These places are romantic only in literature, but if you find yourself stepping into a cafe along some former main street, screen door clattering behind you, perhaps you too could envision a country in which gods and folk heroes might sit at nicked-up formica tables -- in plaid shirts, faded jeans, worrying at soggy hash-browns -- complaining of better times when people remembered them, and what can you do about it anyways?

I thought this was quite a remarkable book -- quite slow, however, so perhaps not a novel for the impatient. I look forward to reading more Neil Gaiman in the future. (And of course, I would be remiss in not mentioning the Sandman graphic novels. I believe Billy Goat is a fan of these; perhaps we can convince him to offer a post?)

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