Written By: Neil Gaiman
Published By: William Morrow
Released: June 19th, 2001
Narrated By (Deep Breath): Neil Gaiman, Dennis Boutsikaris, George Guidall, Ron McLarty, Daniel Oreskes, Sarah Jones
Length: 19 Hours
Link to Purchase (Audible)
To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this book. There’s a lot of stuff here that I love and a lot of things that I’m not very fond of. Half of my time listening to it, I was completely enthralled. The other half, I was practically screaming “Oh my God, GET ON WITH IT!”
Out of the three Gaiman books I’ve reviewed thus far (Good Omens and Norse Mythology, the links to which will be at the bottom in case you’re curious), this one is probably my least favorite. I don’t think it’s a bad book! It did captivate me enough to finish it. But I don’t think I liked it as much as I did the others.
Plot: Fresh Out of Jail
This is where the crux of my problems lie. The plot itself is very interesting and compelling. But the pacing is very up and down throughout the run. In the first few parts, the story is super slowly paced. Then, in the final act, the plot makes a mad dash for the end! So you have a decent book for most of the run which then picks up the pace and goes from decent to great.
After spending three years in prison, Shadow is excited to be reunited with his wife Laura and resume his normal life. Unfortunately, on the day of his release, his life completely falls apart. Both Laura and his best friend were killed in a car accident, depriving Shadow of both a home and a job. Now that he’s free, he has nowhere to go.
On his way to Laura’s funeral, Shadow meets Mr. Wednsday, an odd man who knows more about Shadow than he should. He offers Shadow a simple job working under him to help him achieve an unknown goal. With a new line of work, Shadow finds himself entangled in a world of gods, old and new, and ancient creatures of folklore! Thus, he’s whisked away on a journey of self-discovery, adventure, and several beatings!
Seriously, Shadow gets beaten up a lot in this book. Which makes me feel really bad, cause I love the guy.
I really like this book in terms of the story! Each character is fun and likable, with just enough depth to make them interesting. Shadow is an incredibly interesting protagonist, one that drives the plot along perfectly! Wednesday is the perfect blend of ‘cocky bastard’ and ‘tired old man’ and I love him! All the supporting characters are fun, and they’re given just enough time in the story as to not become annoying.
Unfortunately, like I said earlier, the story has some pacing issues. Sometimes, a beat in the story will only last about half a chapter or less. Others, it will last for several chapters and just meander for AGES!! These scenes are necessarily bad, and they’re certainly important to the story. But I couldn’t help but check my mental watch every once in a while. It just goes on and on and on!
This is especially bad during the ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Somewhere in America’ segments. These scenes do a lot to flesh out the world of American Gods, but they do practically nothing to the story as a whole! Plus, they go on for so fucking long! You could skip these scenes, miss almost nothing, and shave off a ton of time from the book!
Performances: Activating Movie Mode
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a first for ‘How’s This Book?’! A full-cast production!
Honestly, I don’t have much to say here. Everyone in the cast, from the narrator to Shadow to Mr. Wednsday, does a great job, but none of them really stand out. There are a few odd lines here and there, but overall it’s very good.
It is a very nice touch, I’ll admit. It transforms this from a simple audiobook to an audio drama! It adds an extra layer to the story that I really enjoy! It isn’t fantastic, nor is it terrible. It’s a nice little touch that makes the story just a little better.
Voice: America Brought To Life
Neil Gaiman has a lot of qualities that I adore. He has a strong pension for fun and witty dialogue, deep and interesting characters, and a masterful balance between heavily detailing everything and leaving the details ambiguous. Thankfully, he brings all that and more to American Gods!
In terms of his characters, Gaiman goes all out. Each one has a story of their own, all of which play into Shadow’s own while still being good enough to stand alone. We get just enough details to get a general idea of what they look like while still giving us just few enough to fill in the gaps on our own.
For the settings, Gaiman goes far more heavily into minimalism. He’ll settle for giving the audience the general details, such as the weather and general appearance of the roadside, buildings, etc. There are some scenes where he’ll go into more detail, but most of them go pretty light.
One odd thing that I noticed in this book, which didn’t show up in neither of the other books of his that I’ve reviewed, is the constant switching between past-tense and present-tense. The bulk of the story is written in past-tense, as most books are. But there are some scenes that are written as if they’re happening right now.
To put it simply, the book will go like this. When we’re focused on Shadow, the story is written like this:
Shadow stepped out of the car and took a deep breath of the cold air. The snow stung his cheeks and coated his hair, chilling him to the bone. He took a sip of his hot chocalate to warm him up. It burned his tongue, but the warmth it spread through his chest made it worth the pain.
Then, it’ll be written like this.
Shadow steps out of his car and takes a deep breath of the cold air. The snow stings his cheeks and coats his hair, chilling him to the bone. He takes a sip of his hot chocalate to warm him up. It burns his tongue, but the warmth it spreads through his chest makes the pain worth it.
Now, I understand why Gaiman did this. Switching up from past to present tense makes it easier for the audience to differentiate the Shadow scenes from the ‘everyone that isn’t Shadow’ scenes. However, I feel that differentiation is completely unnecessary! Worse yet, there are a few flaws in the execution of the technique.
For one, it makes the story feel incredibly disjointed at times. Sort of like someone took a novel in one hand, a stage play in the other, shoved the two together and glued the pages to make them one unit. It takes you right out of the story as you wonder “Wait, hold on, so this is all happening now but the Shadow stuff happened before?”
It’s also far from consistent. Sometimes, a perfectly normal Shadow chapter will cut away to a present-tense scene with another character and then go right back to past-tense with Shadow! Some scenes that don’t star Shadow and focus on one of the side characters are written in past-tense, despite the early versions of such scenes being written present-tense! The implementation of this technique is sloppy as hell!
Still, Gaiman is a great writer. I don’t understand why the changing of past/present-tense needed to be there. But if you can get past that, you’ll find another wonderful piece of English literature!
American Gods is an odd book. It has a lot of little things that really bother me! In my time listening to it, there were a ton of scenes where I was just rolling my eyes and waiting for it to get a move on! Sure, my patience was well rewarded at the end, but it was just so tedious!
Still, this is a far better book than it is a bad one. The characters are wonderful, the story is intriguing (most of the time), the performers do a good job, and it’s written by one of my favorite creative voices in literature! It can be a bit wonky at times, but I still enjoyed myself while I was listening to it.
I would recommend reading American Gods. For all its flaws, it’s still a damn good piece of fiction! It’s not something I’ll go back to frequently, as I do with Good Omens. But it is still something that I fully intend to go back to at least a few times in my life.
Though I’ll have to be careful where I’m listening to it. Listening to a graphic sex scene while walking down the street can be a bit awkward.