It is surprising, perhaps, that I have just now read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, considering that it is one of those rare, modern-day classics. I’ve never read any books by Neil Gaiman before either, which is possibly even more surprising, since he both writes in my favorite genres and can claim to be one of the most successful writers alive. But both counts are true. I’ve finally gotten around to reading this science fiction/fantasy/horror classic (no one can seem to decide in which category it is best suited), and I’ve never before read a word by Gaiman before picking up this novel.
I find myself…slightly disappointed.
Perhaps it was the buildup. Hugo winner, Nebula winner, almost-every-award-you-can-imagine winner, contemporary classic – I mean, what accolade hasn’t been thrown at this book’s spine? In the end, the reality didn’t match the hype.
That’s not to say it was a bad book. It was decent. I enjoyed it. Would I pick up another novel by Gaiman based on what I read here? Meh. Probably not – but it was certainly worth reading once. The concept behind American Gods was cool, the writing is excellent, the scenery and settings were vivid – but it was missing that special something to make it a great book.
Maybe it was Shadow. Is it strange that I agree with his wife, Laura, on this one? He’s…empty. He doesn’t want things. He’s flat and uninspiring. He’s a shell. Maybe Gaiman meant to write him that way. He named his character Shadow, after all, and a more apt name can scarcely be imagined. If Gaiman intentionally meant to write Shadow that way, he certainly succeeded. Maybe some people find a character written as such to be mysteriously compelling – it just didn’t work for me. Shadow stirred nothing that allowed me to identify with him or get particularly attached. He walks and talks and does things, but rarely out of any desire or curiosity or love. If Wednesday tells him to do something, he does it. And if Wednesday has nothing for him to do, he sits around numbly and twiddles his thumbs or plays with a coin.
But the concept behind American Gods? Easily the most exciting topic. I’d say it’s more than enough reason to pick up Gaiman’s most famous work. I’ll recommend this novel for the foundational idea alone. I’d try to describe it, but, honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to the task.
Final verdict? Great idea, decent book, and not nearly as good as it has been made out to be.