Monday 26 October 2015

#CBR7 Book 111: "American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition" by Neil Gaiman

Page count: 656 pages
Audio book length: 19hrs 39 mins (Full cast edition)
Rating: 4 stars

Shadow is serving time in prison, patiently keeping his head down and counting the days until his release. He longs to get home to Laura, his travel agent wife and passes the time learning coin tricks and dreaming of what they will do together once he's out of jail.

Only a few days before he's due to be released, Shadow is told that Laura was killed in a car accident, along with Shadow's best friend Robbie, whom Laura was apparently having an affair with. As Robbie was supposed to give Shadow a job once he got out, there is suddenly no longer anything for Shadow to return home to. All his dreams for the future are shattered in one fell swoop. Hence, when he meets the mysterious and enigmatic Mr. Wednesday on the way to Laura's funeral and is offered a job, there is nothing to keep him from accepting.

The job as Mr. Wednesday's driver, body guard and general helper is quite a lot different from what Shadow was expecting. Travelling across America, they meet up with a large group of strange and eccentric individuals. There is a storm brewing, a reckoning to be had. There is going to be a war, between the gods of the old worlds and the gods of the new America. They all need attention and belief to thrive and Mr. Wednesday is rounding up as much support as he can for the old gods. What is Shadow's role in all of it? Why won't Laura's ghost leave him alone? What will happen when the storm finally breaks?

American Gods was first released in 2000, and I own the hardback of the original edition, which I read way back when it was new. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the book, a deluxe edition with ten thousand extra words (an author's preferred version) was released, initially in a very limited print run, and later given wide release. I kept thinking I wanted to re-read the book, but with so many shiny books out there, I just never got round to it.

Then it was announced that Starz had the development rights and that Bryan Fuller, visionary show runner of great shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies and most recently, the stunning and incomparable Hannibal is set to turn it into a series, and my motivation for re-visiting the book increased. I got the Full Cast edition of the audiobook on Audible some time before I clumsily fell on my way home from work and concussed myself, but stuck with nothing to do but listen to things and knit, I got through the last two thirds of the audio in about a day.

In this book, Englishman Neil Gaiman explores America, the country of immigrants, and what has made the country it is today. In between the main story of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday and their road trips to recruit more old and nearly forgotten deities around the country, there are little "Coming to America" chapters, highlighting the many different and diverse groups of people who came to the continent, from the very first nomads who crossed the land bridge in the north of Alaska, to the Norsemen, the slaves, the immigrants in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, all bringing the beliefs of their former homelands with them.

It's a sprawling book, with great scope and ambition. While Mr. Wednesday is a secretive character who keeps his cards extremely close to his chest, Shadow himself is quite a cipher. As the book progresses, we discover more about why he was in prison, and what in his past may have brought him to the attention of Mr. Wednesday in the first place. It's been so long since I read the book that I didn't remember many of the finer details of the plot at all, and certainly not the major revelations in the climax of the book. So while this was a re-read, it was more like discovering the book again. I still think Mr. Gaiman is at his best when he writes shorter fiction, be it the single issues of his magnificent graphic novel Sandman, his short stories or his books for children. American Gods is probably still his most impressive novel for grown-ups, though, and I'm very much looking forward to what it's going to look like on screen.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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