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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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Extensively quoted in
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When Old Myths Meet The Modern Age
Sometimes when I read a book, I find myself comparing it to another of a similar style or nature. But Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS is unlike anything I have read before. Here, he tells the story of the old gods of myth and folklore struggling for existence as they war with America's new gods - portrayed by such things as television, the internet, technology, and money. This is not a battle for control, but for survival. Gaiman has an unique interpretation of the old myths, as well as a keen insight into the state of American culture and values today - which is impressive, considering he is born and raised in Great Britain.
In AMERICAN GODS Gaiman takes the reader so many places, both physical and spiritual, I found myself dazzled. Throughout the novel, as his protagonist, Shadow assists one of these old god's, who he calls Wednesday, Gaiman shows us countless tourist sites and roadside attractions all across the U.S. that I for one never knew existed, and gives them the spin that only he can. These sites, he tells us, are today's sacred places. And I believe he is right.
I also particularly liked Gaiman's depiction of the old gods as they have now become; what they have been reduced to by America. The image of once powerful beings resorting to panhandling, con games, driving taxis and the like is a poignant metaphor for how we treat the mythology and spiritual beliefs of the old world - the world of our ancestors. I wonder if some, though, might find the way he has treated these once lofty beings as offensive and untrue to their original nature. Odin as a two bit hustler, though interesting, does not fit my image of the myth. But this is Neil Gaiman's world, and in such a place, things are never as you think they should be. That is part of the fun.
Gaiman's novel is far more than just the sum of its central theme, however. Twists of plot and subtle subplot make up the bulk; satisfactorily carried through by Gaiman's protagonist, Shadow, an ex-con, who on the day of his release from prison, discovers that he has nothing to look forward to when his wife dies in a car accident. He gets drafted into helping in the god's quest, and though he seems to be going along for the ride out of lack of any other direction, it is soon revealed just how intimately he is tied to the war himself. AMERICAN GODS is at once the classic American Road novel (given a unique flavor as only Gaiman can), as well as a subtle, superbly crafted supernatural thriller. The ending was both a surprise, and an expert weave combining all the disparate elements of the plot and sub-plot together. I am ever impressed that a writer from across the pond could portray America so well.
An interesting note on this. I have, after completing this novel, come across a copy of the original galleys sent out to reviewers, book stores, and such. These were unedited, straight from the typewriter pages, bound together in an advanced reader. What is interesting about them, is that you can see Gaiman in his pure form; warts and all. Though the finished product is distinctly American, these advanced readers have all the Britishisms I would have expected from an Englander such as he. It reveals how much of the craft of writing is in the rewriting and editing stage.
There can be no doubt that a superb skill was used to create this book.
I give it five BookWyrms.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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