Everyone who knows me knows I love reading. That makes gift giving occasions simple. This Christmas, as always, friends and family unloaded their favorite recent reads. Now, almost two months into the year I’ve decided it’s time to put a dent in it. The next three weeks post’s will feature these books.
I had high hopes for Neil Gaiman. Several people very dear to me adore his work.
It is unfortunate then that I wasn’t a huge fan of American Gods. The best, albeit inarticulate, reason I have for this is that it didn’t ‘click’ for me. Throughout the novel I encountered small—at times insubstantial—issues that prevented the usual full immersion I enjoy while reading.
My number one issue: lack of deep mythological knowledge (let it be said however, that I found it blatantly obvious Shadow was Odin’s, a.k.a. Wednesday’s, son Baldr). I was never an ardent student but so many phrases or names invoked the tip-of-my-tongue response. Wherein, I felt like I should know more about whatever it was I had stumbled across. Time and again I couldn’t help but belittle myself for not knowing certain characters. “Wait. Who’s Bast again?” or “Oh Odin… I know about you. Wait… I guess all I really associate you with is Anchorman.
That lack of knowledge, given time, was easy enough to push past. What I could not get over was the writing. Too often I found Gaiman’s prose stifling and overly direct, a touch too on-the-nose for my taste. In response I told myself that what Gaiman seems to excel at is story, not writing. For, despite the occasional writing idiosyncrasies I continued to turn the page (and not solely because it was a gift or out of habit).
Yet even as I told myself this I knew I didn’t believe it. The story just wasn’t memorable. It has now been only two weeks since I turned the last page and I can’t even remember the climax. (There was a battle and… it ended, somehow). As a whole the novel felt stilted. It felt like a bunch of interesting set-pieces that were poorly woven into a story. Sure, I remember Johnny Appleseed and the taxi driving ifrit but I’ll be damned if I can remember how they relate to Shadow and the main through-story of the novel.
In short, I didn’t know what to make of this American Gods. Don’t take the above for a harsh reprisal of the novel. That I didn’t ‘get it’ doesn’t mean it was by any means a bad book. Moreover, Gaiman won’t be a one-and-done author—otherwise my girlfriend might kill me. Good Omens sits on my bookshelf and I expect I’ll pick it up late this year.
Rating: 3 out of 5 old gods
On deck: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Currently reading: The Builders by Daniel Polansky