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American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

(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. cover scanWhen 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 thought-out tale.

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.

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