Tree and Lightning

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Dashed Expectations in Gaiman’s American Gods

I came into American Gods ready to be wowed. After a few conversations about great summer reads, I heard my colleagues bring up one of Neil Gaiman’s most famous novels on quite a few occasions. I looked at the Goodreads reviews and thought I found a can’t miss. Especially considering that the book has lasted as a must-read for more than a decade and that it has been made into a Starz Original Series, I assumed that I was in for a treat. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Book Cover for American Gods by Neil Gaiman

By the time I finished this novel, I felt more confused than anything. Had I been duped by thousands of readers in an elaborate online trolling conspiracy? Was I actually delivered a book cover with different words inside? Frankly, I’m still confused. I found American Gods to be passable at best in its strongest places. Usually, I spent my time slogging through it, waiting for it to get better.

World Building Somewhat Redeems American Gods

A classic example of the low fantasy genre, Gaiman creates an otherwise realistic America that has the pagan gods of old flitting about the country. The core conflict concerns the battle between old and new gods. For example, the Odins and Lokis of the world fight for dominance against the new gods like the internet and television. Although the commentary feels a bit overt, the concept creates an exciting world that kept the narrative afloat.

Part of why this book frustrates stems from the fact that the story falls flat in comparison to the world. The plot, the characters, the dialogue—none of it matches the exceptional setting and “what if” scenario. The book has so much potential but the story fails to hold up, even with such a creative premise.

Missed Opportunities in American Gods

Without question, the book’s most annoying trait had to be its failure to take advantage of the world and Gods it brought in. The book has a lot of fun moments where the protagonist Shadow (an eye-roller of a name to say the least) and the reader meet different Gods and try to figure out how they fit into the big picture. However, most of these Gods fall flat of their potential—usually acting very standardized. Gaimain missed out on a lot of creative potential.

Only Wednesday, one of Odin’s representations on earth (and also Shadow’s employer), as well as Czernobog had interesting characterizations. Most of the other Gods simply fell flat and didn’t seem to be special or exciting in any way.

American Gods Needed an Editor

Maybe Neil Gaiman’s editor took a vacation when this book hit the presses. American Gods could easily have been cut down by two-hundred if not three-hundred pages. The story begins with Shadow’s stint in jail. It takes about seventy pages for him to get out and only then does the story actually begin.

Over the course of the novel, we meet about ten to fifteen characters who contribute almost nothing to the main narrative. Gaiman also includes little short stories that have no bearing on the story and don’t really change our understanding of the present action. Gaiman never ties these little tangents back into the novel and he drops characters when he doesn’t need them anymore. They build the world, but their irrelevance made them absolutely cuttable.

The book also carries a lot of silly tropes and clichés that led to quite a few sighs from yours truly. Gaiman may have pulled the dialogue straight from The Fast and The Furious. The book portrays Shadow as the strong, silent type far too often. The prose falls flat—which wouldn’t be a big deal if the story carried the work. But since both lack, each highlights the other’s flaws.

Save a Month and Skip this Book

Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know. For a book that has received such high reviews since publications, I found it to be an average story, with average characters, and average prose. The book leaves so much to be desired. Due to its length (500+ pages depending on the format), readers can direct their reading time to far better works.

American Gods Book Cover American Gods
Neil Gaiman
Low Fantasy
William Morrow
2001
541

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