Wednesday, July 1, 2009

American Gods

American Gods
Written by Neil Gaiman

Beliefs travel with the believer. That is the central concept behind American Gods, an incredible book from Neil Gaiman, a man I've been reading a lot of lately. When the Vikings came to America, they brought with them their Gods. As more immigrants came, on slave ships or trade ships or whatever you may, they brought even more beliefs, more Gods, with them, until this was a country full of Gods. But, as time went on, they forgot about their Gods, stopped worshiping them, or making sacrifices in their names, until the Gods could do nothing but get on with life like the rest of us.

Or, at least, try.

Our story follows Shadow, an unusually large man, as he's being released from prison after serving three years. I don't want to give away much more than the back cover does, so I'll leave my summation at his meeting a mysterious man who has a job for him. Does Shadow accept? Well, of course he does, that's the whole idea. It wouldn't be much of a book, I don't think, if he didn't.

What I can say about this book, or, rather, what I will say about this book, is that, for the first 425 pages (the paperback edition I read is just shy of 600), it's a good read, and seems like a better-than-average fantasy book, but nothing great. Then it was brilliant. The last 175 pages had me enthralled so fully that I may have ignored a few customers at The Home Depot in an (sucessful) attempt to keep reading.

Much like Martin McDonagh's In Bruge, nothing here is without its place. Details shared early in the book, which pass by like so many inconsequential bits of miscellanea, end up being brilliantly intertwined into a truly epic tapestry. I like that this book plays around with Gods and the big stuff without ever feeling over-done. It never once feels forced, and the ending is as sweet and perfect as you'd want. There was a brief moment where I considered getting misty-eyed.

The ending is essential. There are many books in this broader Fantasy genre that are thrilling reads, but there are precious few which benefit from the real hallmarks of literary perfection; it would be better a second time through, I have no doubt. That is what makes American Gods a true standout.q

Grade: A+

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