Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.
*May Contain Spoilers*
Neil Gaiman's magical realism combines with stories of global gods in his novel, American Gods, in which gods from different lands find themselves in the United States, brought along by the memories of immigrants. Yet, new gods have now materialized as Americans worship new forms of technology. Presently, these gods are in a battle as less and less people believe in the old gods while nearly everyone believes in the new. But the old gods have a plan, at least one of them anyway, and it will culminate in war.
Shadow, the main character, is a waif of a man. He wasn't always like this, but prison and losing his wife changed him. As an ex-con, he doesn't exactly care about the direction in which his life is going. So when a random (really not so random) man shows up and offers him a job, Shadow refuses until he can't anymore. Then he starts working for Mr. Wednesday, an old god. Shadow is a man carried by the wind of other people's decisions. Yet, he is dedicated, loyal, and has an air of something more about him. He's seemingly fearless with a 'take-it-as-it-comes' attitude. The most interesting thing about Shadow is that all the interactions with other gods, old and new, make readers see him as more important than he initially seems. I think this intrigue is one of the main factors that drive the story and helps build a connection between Shadow and readers. Shadow isn't a bad person, but he kind of lacks any personable qualities. Though as the story progresses, he seems to gain traits one at a time. As his deceased wife tells him, he's more dead than alive. And the story seemingly works backward from his death to his birth, creating an intricate emotional attachment to his character.
My favorite sections of the book turned out to be the interludes, or the 'Coming to America' stories. These intermediate chapters are sprinkled throughout the novel, sharing stories of how the old gods were carried to America, with insight into how they stay alive. At first, I thought these sections would feel like interruptions, but they turned out to be more of an offering to the reader. A background that the reader could consume that would help them understand why the old gods are struggling to stay relevant in a technologically advanced world.
The plot of this novel follows Shadow's release from prison leading him to work for Mr. Wednesday in the hope that Shadow can help Mr. Wednesday to rally the old gods in a fight against the new. Though there are many side-stories like a disappearing girl, Shadow's dead wife coming back to a sort of zombie state, and the interludes, the novel tracks Shadow and Mr. Wednesday road-tripping back and forth across America in hopes to create an army of old gods, some named and some nameless. The novel becomes an intricate map of crisscrossed information and ever-changing situations and people. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is, of course, Neil Gaiman's writing style. The words are willowy and the characters are constantly changing, as if no one could ever really grasp these things called gods. And yet, the whole thing is a con and a simple story of the immigration of beliefs and the lengths one would go to to keep those beliefs alive.
Rating: 4/5 Cups