American Gods (The Novel) : A Very Strange Road Trip

Before anyone asks, yes. I know that there is a TV series built around this book. I haven’t been able to see it, because it’s attached to yet another stream service that I can’t afford. Or rather I can, but I shouldn’t be spending money wherever I want to right now. Still, I’m very interested in how they adapted this novel, because I find it rather hard to adapt. Self admittedly, I did get the special version of the novel that has over ten thousand words attached to it. The book I read is more meandering then the normal edition that came out first because of that. Still, the American Gods novel is far from a conventional story with a conventional structure and ending. Trimming it down to fit a television format would change how the story works over all. Then again, all of this is based on facts that I don’t know anything about so all of this could be the wild ravings of a mad man. Oh well, so be it. That’s very fitting with how this novel works anyway. Neil Gaiman stuff perhaps?

American Gods starts off with the most unlikely place a road trip novel would start, prison. Our protagonist, by the name of Shadow, is a very big guy who was arrested under for attempting to rob a Casino. More specifically, the casino that his life Laura worked at. At the beginning of this novel, Shadow’s sentence is almost over and he can return to his wife very soon. The thing is, his wife died under mysterious circumstances a few days before his imminent release. As a result, Shadow was allowed to leave a day earlier then expected. Or so we think. American God’s mysteries only get stranger and stranger when he meets up with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. A person of unknown origin and identity that somehow gets Shadow to work for him. Ok, maybe gets isn’t the right word. Maybe the real word is extorted. Either way, the interesting times do come and things only get stranger over time. In the best way of course.

This book is a road trip novel. It’s center structure of American Gods. Or at least, that’s the closest thing this novel has to any sort of structure. Go places, do things, meet people. Go places, do things, meet people. It’s a vague conceit, but it’s a very fun and explorative conceit to build a novel out of. Adding the super natural elements into the whole thing kind of emphasizes how strange meeting people in different locations can be. Who will Shadow be dragged along to meet today? What is their gimmick? Are they are a leprechaun? What about a dwarf? Maybe even a god from the old world? Possibly a new world god created in this supposedly called new world/Americas. A great place to discuss to begin to talk about the main thrust of what American Gods is about.

American Gods is also the story of immigration and old world traditions vs the way the world people think these days. So many side stories revolved around how people made it to the Americas. From stories of the slave trade triangle from Africa to a much, to the first Vikings that made it here, to the much nicer and long lasting empires from Britain, everything gets an aside story that connects heavily to the themes of this book. The conflict of these older traditions and values vs what people supposedly worship and focus with computers, internet, and whatever we do these days. Shadow and Mr. Wednesday travel from place to place to gather the old gods in order to face off against the newer gods that are out to kill them. That adds a little more edge to this “just being a road trip”, doesn’t it? Kind of the point.

Once again, I think the writing style and the structure of this novel is what makes it so incredibly unadaptable. The chapters are very meandering and unfocused. I mean that in a time flow sort of way. One moment doesn’t connect to the next one in each chapter besides the barest of links. A character might be in prison or a location for over the course of just one chapter with one situation happened directly after another with no cut offs or obvious transitions. Yet, the strange thing is the writing is completely understandable despite that fact. This is the first novel that I’ve ever read from Neil Gaiman and from this novel alone, he really has this really of communicating knowledge in strange ways that shouldn’t usually work. It’s a gift that I wish I had. I need to read more of his novels.

You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about characters in the book? There are reasons for that. The smallest reason is that I don’t want to tell you what gods show up. It’s a much more interesting surprise that way. The biggest reason is that Shadow barely has any sort of personality. Yes, he has a background, but he just exists for the story to happen. As far as we know and the novel even tells you, Shadow is merely alive and doesn’t have his own passions or anything that really drives him. That does slowly change over the course of American Gods, but he’s an observer that does what he is told to do. It’s honestly the weakest part of the novel, which is something that I am sad about because everything else about the novel is so strong and meaningful. I guess something had to give, right?

Since this is me asking, is anyone interested in sharing their favorite Neil Gaiman books? I want to read some more and I don’t know where to start.


  1. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time, it’s up there with Good Omens on my ‘To Buy’ list, but I never seem to get around to actually buying them, like so many things. Only other Neil Gaiman books I’ve read so far are Fragile Things, which is a short story collection, one of which is takes place after American Gods and the Norse Mythology book, both of which I’d recommend.

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  2. I get Showtime free as part of our cable package. Ameican Gods is a really really really good series. Shadow has a significant growth arc throughout and I think it is building to something very significant. I talked about in a blog, Anime Ennui.

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  3. American Gods was also one of his first works, which considering, it was done quite well. I’ve read quite a few of his novels as my roommate/best friend is obsessed with Neil Gaiman. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a magical realism novel that can be a bit dark as it centres on children and has abuse in it, but it’s absolutely brilliant. I think I did a review for it on my blog. Coraline is also another great one. It’s a young adult novel, but the story is quite macabre and imaginative. Norse Mythology is another excellent novel. It has tons of the original Norse mythos in it, but in a very accessible manner that is perfect for folks who are unfamiliar with Norse mythos as well as those who already know a bit about it. His graphic novels are actually my favourite over his novels. The best one is A Study in Emerald. It’s Cthulhu meets Sherlock Holmes, and the artwork is done by one of my favourite illustrators and it complements the narratives perfectly.

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  4. I’ll second BiblioNyan’s suggestion of The Ocean at the End of the Land.

    I’d like to suggest Neverwhere. Just fantastic in the most pure sense of the world.

    I bought the audio book, and Neil Gaiman narrated it. I don’t have the words.

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