(US edition: William Morrow, $26.00, hardback. UK edition: Headline,
£6.99, 632 pages, paperback, March 2002.)
Gods of old religions crash with new deities of consumerism and technology
in American Gods, Neil Gaiman's tale about America and its myths,
new and old. When
Shadow, a convicted felon, is released from prison a few days early
due to his wife's accidental death, he is approached by the mysterious
Mr Wednesday. Wednesday, a grifter in need of a bodyguard and driver,
makes him a job offer he literally can't refuse. But, while Wednesday
is a conman, he's not really a man at all. One of the old gods, brought
to America by immigrants years ago, he seeks to enlist others of his
kind in a final confrontation with the new deities of America -- gods
of credit card and television and Internet.
As Wednesday and Shadow journey across the continental USA, the novel's
landscape slides back and forth between reality and fantasy. Like all
road-trip stories, this is about a search for the heart of a country.
In the rambling, Kerouacian exploration of small communities and big
cities, roadside attractions, diners, banks, Indian reservations, hotels
and motels, and long, long stretches of US highway, Gaiman has produced
a novel that feels quintessentially American (no small accomplishment
for an author who isn't). At times poignant, at times humorous, sometimes
chilling, American Gods is always enjoyable. Certainly, as the
author admits in his afterword, there is much here that has been explored
before in the works of Harlan Ellison, Tim Powers, and others. And there
are revisited themes that Gaiman himself has been refining and developing
since his early days working on the Sandman graphic novels. But
none of this detracts from what is an engaging, finely crafted and well
American Gods may, as the hype claims, be the best novel Gaiman
has yet produced. Whether that is the case or not, it is certainly one
of the best novels of the year, perhaps one of the best fantasies to
emerge from the American landscape in quite some time.
Review by Lou Anders.
Elsewhere in infinity