American Gods by Neil Gaiman


First quarter: chapters 1-6

American Gods is an… interesting book.  After reading that it was about the conflict between the ‘old gods’ (Odin, Ibis, etc.) and the ‘new gods’ such as media and technology, I assumed that it would be a deep commentary on the American people.  After reading the first thirty or so pages, it became obvious that this story doesn’t have one underlying meaning beyond that we worship stocks and technology.  You can, of course, force a universal meaning upon it, but it’s not quite the same:

“Through the main character of the novel, Shadow, Neil Gaiman conveys to the reader that a struggle can destroy one’s individuality until they are simply a pawn of greater forces.”

“American Gods conveys that the American people are increasingly controlled by their insatiable appetite for material goods rather than values such as strength and valor, which are represented by the old gods.”

The meaning simply isn’t as obvious or powerful as that of To Kill A Mockingbird or Animal Farm.

That’s not to say I haven’t been enjoying the book.  The plot is engaging, if you can get over the sheer randomness of it.  The title is magnificent.  From the first page of the novel, the characters are engaging, if not relatable.  But then the story just keeps on moving.  I would summarize the first quarter, but so much happens that it’s kind of a blur.  But hidden inside the weird plot twists are some really powerful statements or simply entertaining interactions.  Things like how Mr. Wednesday robs a bank.  Or when Mr. Wednesday says, “This is the only country in the world… that worries about what it is” (Gaiman 105).  The United States is so large and diverse that there isn’t one thing we can point to and say: “That’s American”.  We, as Americans, are simply a conglomeration of every part of the world.  Or when Shadow makes it snow simply by thinking of snow.  Does it mean that through belief we can accomplish anything?  Does it mean that reality is simply what we believe it to be?  At first I thought, probably not.  It probably means nothing–simply an anecdote.  But the more I think about the many stories contained in American Gods, the more amazing and meaningful the book is.

By far the most interesting part is at the very end of the first quarter.  Gaiman writes, “Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods” (116).  Like the rest of the book, this could be interpreted in a multitude of ways.  It could be the obvious: that the lights were turned off, and Shadow literally saw, with his eyes, the gods.  It could mean that if we look beyond the obvious parts of our life, we are actually surrounded and controlled by gods such as honesty and bravery and intelligence.  That’s the best part of the book: that it’s so open to interpretation.  The next few pages were equally great.  Descriptions such as: “Shadow turned, slowly, streaming images of himself as he moved, frozen moments, each him captured in a fraction of a second, every tiny movement lasting for an infinite period… He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil moustache… and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin”… (Gaiman 117-118).  It’s like Percy Jackson on steroids but also with good writing.  You could take so many different meanings from it (not to mention that it’s astounding imagery), but the important part is simply that, so far, American Gods is an amazing story.


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16 responses to “American Gods by Neil Gaiman

  1. Thus far, I have found American Gods to be an intriguing read. Before I tackled this hefty book, I had been told about how it was a wonderful novel and such. It was lauded for its creativity, plot, and writing style. This lead to some serious doubts about the validity of such claims. Some questionable scenes in the first six chapters seemed to strengthen my doubts. However, these first six chapters have given me a reasonable overview of Gaiman’s novel and I admit that it has been fascinating in an almost inexplicable fashion
    Like Eric has said, there has not been any major universal meaning but I don’t think you have to force one onto it. The reader can obtain simple meanings purely from through the interactions between the characters. I am still uncertain about the true subject of this novel. At the moment, I have had premonitions about the fading belief systems and the concept of change. Yet, with everything Gaiman has thrown in, I could be wildly off the mark.
    My favorite aspect of this novel so far is “the sheer randomness of it” (Snell). This by no means follows conventional plot lines, nor does it have predictable series of events. Instead, there is a plot twist around every corner and can come across as a somewhat quirky book. The best part are the incredible number of anecdotes and random additions that adorn the plot and provide a richer reading experience. One of my favorite aspects of Shadow’s experience so far has been his interest in magic tricks. I am sure they are a metaphor. For what, I am not yet certain.
    Gaiman’s writing is both subdued and poetic. It is deeply emotional, but without a hint of melodrama. His descriptions are elaborate yet not drawn out. He tells a huge, complex, eternal story, one small tale at a time. I don’t know how else to say it, in this book Neil Gaiman took storytelling and made it personal.

    • definitelynotallen

      I completely agree with you, Eric, when you said that you originally thought the book might have meaning when it really didn’t (and you were the one that told me the book had no meaning- ironic?). Just like you, I thought that the book would have some deep messages on how America is pushing away old traditions and only caring about the new, which has subtle but very real consequences. Apparently not, though.

      I have to agree again in this next paragraph, this time with all three of you: this book is good. There are some rather… interesting scenes in the book, but I’ve been told the number of these scenes decreases as the book goes on. The book is actually quite fast paced, which is both good and somewhat bad. Good because fast paced books are much more exciting, which I like, at least. Bad because it feels like some stuff are just touched on briefly and then thrown away, never to be seen again. While this may not be due to the fast-paced feel the book has, it’s still one of the things that kind of bothers me. The one scene with this woman named Bilquis is an example of this. I thought that, after reading this section, this Bilquis woman would pop up in the next chapter. Apparently not, as the next chapter goes back to Wednesday and Shadow discussing Shadow’s future. Maybe the next chapter? Nope. The one after that? Still no Bilquis. Weird. So what was that for, anyway?

      One of the most interesting things I noticed was the character Laura. I thought that after she supposedly died, she would have, well, stayed dead and just be out of the story. Again, apparently not. Turns out that she is still very much dead but alive, with absolutely no explanation as to exactly how she did so. Perhaps that’s a writing technique used to simply troll the reader- or instead to make the book more mysterious. I’m thinking more of the latter.

      Ultimately, I want to say what Andrew already said: this book is impressive. Just as you said, Gaiman’s creation of “American gods” is extremely intriguing and original. I was also wondering: what god is that fat kid supposed to be anyway?

  2. andrewliu31

    Similar to both Chuck and Eric, I found this novel to be quite “…interesting” (Snell). The reason why I chose to use such a word was because I am pretty unfamiliar with this type of book – it seems to be meant for young adults (in their 20s) or just adults in general. The language and, as Chuck mentioned, “questionable” scenes make this pretty obvious. Furthermore, Gaiman is not exactly some widely acclaimed fiction writer (correct me if I’m wrong), and I found his style to be a bit unconventional. I agree with both Chuck and Eric about the erratic nature of the book – utterly random (at least it seems so to the reader) events are so abruptly added to it. Because of how often this happens it becomes easy for the reader to just accept it with about as much astonishment as the main character Shadow would show. Shadow’s wife comes back to life as a zombie? Leprechauns exist? He’s working for Odin and shared a smoke with a spider god? Just go with it. Even though this does not necessarily detract from the book, it is a big part of why Gaiman’s approach feels anything but familiar.
    However, despite the fact I have only finished the first quarter, I can easily deduce that the creativity of Gaiman’s ideas go above and beyond. The notion of American gods is as innovative as any award winning fiction book, if not more. If you think about it, popular series involving gods living in the midst of a modern world (Rick Riordan comes to mind) are based around old myths already written. American Gods, on the other hand, has original ideas that I honestly think if better developed and executed, could put it on the same level as any other bestseller.

  3. ericsnell1

    Chapters 6/7-10: (sorry for the weird split)

    Andrew, you’re wrong. Neil Gaiman is a very acclaimed fiction writer. In fact, American Gods won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though it’s ‘not on the same level as any other bestseller’. Other examples of books that have won both of these awards are Dune, Rendezvous with Rama, and Ender’s Game… as a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction book, this is pretty much at the top.
    I agree with you, Andrew, that this is a very original novel, but in my opinion the bad thing about this book isn’t that it is poorly developed and executed. It’s just too complicated. If Gaiman had written a novel with a more simple plot but all the same basic ideas (more like Percy Jackson, I guess), I think I would have liked it even more.

    With that said, I do think that some of the minor characters who are mentioned very briefly, like Bilquis, will come up later in the book. I assume that Bilquis is a minor god, so I’m willing to guess either Wednesday visits Bilquis or she gets killed by the new gods.

    I kind of skimmed through this chapter. Laura, the dead wife, comes back and kills the people who kidnapped Shadow. Okay. Shadow moves into a funeral home with Jacquel, Ibis, and their cat, Bast. This was kind of entertaining, because: (obviously) Jacquel is the Egyptian god Anubis, who has the head of a jackal and was associated with the afterlife; and Ibis is the Egyptian god Thoth who had the head of an ibis and was the god of wisdom; and Bast the cat is actually Bastet, the violent and powerful god of domestic cats. But even with all of the allusions, there’s simply too much going on. I would have appreciated if Gaiman could have built up to the climax rather than write about some guy from Oman who has sex with a Middle Eastern demon cab driver and then gets his identity stolen. And why did Gaiman have to include the line, “New York scares Salim… He is scared of black people, the way they stare at him, and he is scared of the Jews” (181)? Most of the writing in the book is great–I love Gaiman’s writing style–but negrophobia and judeophobia (both real words, I promise you) don’t add to the story. It’s just kind of odd.

    That’s not to say it isn’t at all entertaining. I’m appreciating Gaiman’s writing more and more as I research mythology, because the writing is so… intelligent. I feel like most of the story is one big allusion, and I think I would appreciate the book even more if I knew more mythology. I’m looking forward to Gaiman elaborating on the main conflict. But mostly, I’m left feeling like Gaiman became kind of distracted from the main plot. I’d rather read about the struggle between the old gods and the new than read about Shadow having sex with a cat god. In my opinion, American Gods would be an even better book if it was more focused. The main idea is great, but the plot is just a bit too wandering for me. But, in all, the wandering and unfocused plot establishes the mood of the section well. It hints at the shifting being done behind the scenes in preparation for the conflict, and leaves me with a desire to read the next section and discover what’ll happen next.

    But after reading this far, there’s still one thing I don’t get. Why Shadow? It seems like all of the gods want them on their side, as if he was a powerful tool. But, like the rest of the novel, I’m sure that will be addressed in the next section. Also, if anyone finds some good, complicated allusions (less like Low Key Lyesmith and more like Hinzelmann), please include them in your comment. And, by the way, don’t look up Hinzelmann. Plot spoilers!

  4. Can we just take a moment to acknowledge Neil Gaiman’ writing prowess?

    One of my favorite sentences, albeit rather long, was: “Listen: a machine-gun rattle of silver coins as they tumble and spurt down into a slot machine tray and overflow onto monogrammed carpets is replaced by the siren clangor of the slots, the jangling, blippeting chorus swallowed by the huge room, muted to a comforting background chatter by the time on reaches the card tables, the distant sounds only loud enough to keep the adrenaline through the gamblers’ veins” (Gaiman 754).

    Yeah Andrew, to add onto Eric’s reply, Neil Gaiman is not to be underestimated, especially when it comes to the realm of fantasy. You may have heard of some of his other critically acclaimed works which include Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust. Coraline was later adapted into a well-known film and I highly recommend The Graveyard Book.

    In reply to Eric’s comment on complexity, I totally understand how you feel. Gaiman throws in so many extraneous story elements. However, I don’t believe they detract from the value of the novel. If you are currently confused about some allusions or short stories, let me assure you, many of them will reappear later. Do not fret. At this point, we have advanced far enough into the plot to understand some of the references or the relevance of some details. But when we finish the book, everything becomes so much clearer. That is not to say that every little tidbit is relevant to the plot; it seems that some are added in just for kicks and giggles.

    To address the comment of what appears to be a tranquil and uneventful section, I would like to point out that it is like the calm before the storm. As Wednesday points out: “These are the dead months. A victory in these months is a dead victory” (Gaiman 750). I still believe that sufficient action occurs in these chapters. I even feel the scene with the ifrit carries significance. Once again, we may only be able this in hindsight.

    On a completely unrelated note, the question burning in my mind right now is who was the forgotten god? I found it very interesting how Shadow and everyone else were able to ignore or forget about this character. Upon extensive research, I have decided that the identity of the forgotten god should be some form of Mercury, the messenger god in Roman mythology. The form I settled on was that of Hindu deity of Budha, more or less a Hindu version of Mercury. I came to this conclusion following the following analysis:
    The “forgotten god” is a dark-haired, dark-eyed, well-manicured man. Budha also had dark hair and dark eyes.
    The Hindu Mercury was also the god of wealth and the mind, similar to the Roman Mercury. As a result, Mercury can be seen walking through Las Vegas, feeling the flow of wealth through the casinos and the city. In addition, it would make sense for the god of the mind to able to make “suggestions” in the mind of another as he did with the waitress. He also has the ability to make and erase thoughts and memories, rendering him forgettable.
    Mercury was the son of the god Soma, which is why he was able to bribe with a bottle of Soma,
    The suit the god was described to have worn was “charcoal-gray” (Gaiman 758). Interestingly enough, charcoal is a known substance used to attract or contain liquid mercury.
    The element mercury, also known as quicksilver, is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. It is notoriously difficult to contain and is extremely quick to evaporate; the phrase “like trying to hold mercury” is a common euphemism for things which are either easily forgotten, or difficult to contain.
    The forgettable god’s home is Las Vegas, which Gaiman goes out of his way to describe as a place where money evaporates or melts away, just like all knowledge of the “forgettable god.”
    If Mercury is both the incarnation of money and knowledge and mercury is also impossible to contain or retain, you get … knowledge and wealth that is impossible to contain or retain. The forgettable god.

  5. definitelynotallen

    I want to throw in my own somewhat connected point on Neil Gaiman as an author. When you mentioned that Gaiman wrote Coraline, it reminded me of how surprised I was when I first learned about that. I didn’t know that Coraline was written by him, because apparently it’s supposed to be a pretty creepy movie, so I would assume that the book is pretty creepy, too, if not creepier. Anyway.

    On the issue of the complexity of the novel, I agree with Eric more than Chuck here. Sure, some of the “allusions and short stories” pop back up in the plot, but more often than not, the characters in the stories just pretty much disappear or appear once and then are gone again. Take my previously mentioned example, Bilquis. (SPOILER ALERT [mainly for Andrew]!) After the one scene where she appeared at the beginning of the book, she never came back until much later, where she reappeared only to be killed. Another example: the random guy from Oman and the demonic cab driver that Eric mentioned (that part was just really weird). They’re killed, too, but not even in a dramatic scene like Bilquis’s. The two are simply given a couple words in a side-note-chapter saying that they just… died. (END SPOILERS) It’s kind of irritating to me, but, as Eric said, Gaiman’s writing is very intelligent, which I think outweighs the complexity of the plot and the frequency of random side stories.

    In response to Chuck’s comment on the complexity: it seems like you only defend the complexity because you’ve already finished the book. I know, I know, all of us except Andrew have already finished, so we know that Gaiman ties it all together at the end (which is very satisfying, by the way). But for all readers who read up to this section in the book, it’s a bit confusing. I definitely remember feeling confused when I had not yet finished the book, which bothered me. It most likely bothered others, too.

    Ultimately, I feel that Gaiman does indeed seem a bit “distracted from the main plot.” I definitely think that if Gaiman focused more on the conflict between the old and new gods, the book would be much more enjoyable. I’m not saying I don’t like it- I actually like the book a lot. What I’m saying is that a more developed conflict coupled with the young adult material could make the book more appealing to more readers. Perhaps Gaiman could even expand the idea into a series then.

  6. andrewliu31

    Hey guys, sorry about my harshness about Gaiman’s writing, although I guess this was met with some equally harsh opposition – “you’re wrong” (Snell). Upon reading farther, I began to appreciate his writing much more. Chuck, I too particularly enjoy the innovative similes (not to mention other figurative language) Gaiman effortlessly dishes out. I guess I shouldn’t make quick judgments on how acclaimed an author is based on whether I have heard of him; you guys might not know, but young adult fiction (with the whole Oman scene) is still quite new to me.

    However, like Allen mentioned, it is still all a bit confusing. At this point I feel like the plot is like the pieces of a puzzle slowly coming together. It’s starting to make a lot more sense now as opposed to my last post, but there are still a heck of a lot of missing pieces. Unfortunately since the point of view is mainly coming from Shadow (besides some very frustratingly effective foreshadowing), who is just as – if not more – confused as the reader. Obviously, he’s not one to ask questions, which makes it even worse. This forces me to agree with Eric’s comment on the complexity of the story. While some readers may be drawn to this and become even further engaged with the story, I feel as if a significant portion of our low-attention-span society today would find it difficult to keep up.

    Similarly, I feel as if there is not enough action in the story right now. For those of you that are not reading it by quarters (I’m assuming all of you at this point), I am referring to the Lakeside part. Although it is important to give the sense of settling down and all, there is so much character development with Hinzelmann, the police chief, etc that seems a bit unnecessary. Personally I prefer a lot more action in my novels with very little break in between. Although I’m liking the change of pace, I’m kind of on withdrawal right now (please excuse this analogy), with only half-cliffhanger-half-erotic-scenes to keep me entertained.

    On a related note, I agree with Allen’s most recent comment. I love the depth and complexity, but at the same time, a lot of the times Gaiman really does seem a little bit distracted. However, I have a feeling that I’m just in a little drought of activity right now before the book speeds back up.

    Final individual comments:
    Eric: I don’t doubt those are real words
    Chuck: That was some great detective work, I just feel it was missing an “illuminati confirmed”
    Allen: Plz no spoilers

  7. definitelynotallen

    (Sorry, Eric and Chuck, for making you guys wait.)

    I’m going to start by complaining some more about Gaiman’s random stories. WHAT IS THE MAMA ZOUZOU STORY FOR??? WHY? And to Eric and Chuck: where does she appear again in the story? Never? I thought so. Same thing for the weird Eskimo gods thing.

    And oh yay, Bilquis showed up again! It’s been over half the book since you last appeared! And oh… she gets murdered. Okay then. Bye, I guess.

    Anyway, on a more serious tone, going back to the random elements in the story (we’re just going to keep talking about this, aren’t we), I think I’m vaguely starting to see some of them come together. I was very happy to see Sammy come back into the story and not get immediately killed after her seemingly random hitchhiking adventure with Shadow, though I’m still not quite sure what’s she’s supposed to be there for. There’s definitely still more plot-tying to be done, and I’m not satisfied until it happens.

    I thought the book started ramping up quite hard in the third quarter, which was nice. I was kind of confused about the whole “travelling backstage” concept and how it worked, but I thought it was kind of cool. I think Gaiman’s fantasy writing experience shows nicely in this part of the story, as the imaginary elements really start to come together. The backstage thing also reminds me of Coraline, where there’s some alternate universe that the protagonist accesses through a door or something like that. That was a pretty interesting connection. (And I’m not sure, Andrew if you gotten there yet, but just in case I’m going to put a SPOILER ALERT until the end of the paragraph.) The biggest plot twist yet, though, happened at the end of third quarter- or at least, my third quarter. And, yes, it’s where Wednesday dies. I’m pretty excited when such a major plot twist happens, as it always forces me keep on reading. But I’m also not exactly sure what’s supposed to happen when the other main character dies. But hey, Gaiman did it, right? I mean, at least he managed to pull everything together… just not in the way you’d expect…

  8. ericsnell1

    As the book progresses, my appreciation for Neil Gaiman increases. Scenes, such as the one with Bilquis in the very beginning, are becoming more meaningful as the book goes on. It’s less random (though still plenty random), and more focused. Also, I’m beginning to appreciate the stories that do not resurface more. An example of this is the story of Wututu and her brother, Agasu. When I first read the story, I thought, “Great, so how does that relate to the book?” While it’s still unclear how it relates to the book, I realized just recently that Marie Laveau, Wututu’s voodoo protege, was a character in another series I read: The Tales of Alvin Maker. So in response to you, Allen, I’m not sure that the stories need to reappear. For me, it’s enough that they’re entertaining, historically accurate, and slightly meaningful. A few weeks ago I might have hated the interjecting stories, but I guess I’m used to Gaiman’s writing style by now.

    Furthermore, I’ve learned new words, such as prestidigitation. A mouthful, to be sure, but also very descriptive. On that note, it’s interesting to contrast how intelligent Shadow is versus how he is perceived. While he may know words such as “prestidigitation” and he may have read Herodotus, he is still perceived as ‘big and dumb’.

    As to the ‘going backstage’. Just like many of the other things in the book, I feel like it could have been much better. Gaiman definitely has the creativity and the plot, but he probably could have explained it more. Unfortunately, the whole book is somewhat like this. Just based on the ideas, it could have been a great book. But to me, it’s a bit anticlimactic. Sure, [Spoiler Alert!] Wednesday dying was unexpected and a great twist, but it’s somehow not as good as something like Dune. With a little tweaking, a little focusing, I think American Gods could one of the best science fiction / fantasy books ever written.

    Lastly, I’d like to mention that if I hadn’t read the rest of the book already I’d be really looking forward to what happens next. The boring parts of the book, such as Lakeside, do a great job of establishing a sense of tension but also establishing that the war is happening without anybody noticing. If I were the one person who hadn’t finished the book yet, (Andrew!), I wouldn’t be able to put the book down. Having Wednesday die so soon in the book is not a choice I would have made, but I just HAD to know what they would do without Wednesday.

  9. andrewliu31

    Just FYI, yes, I have gotten to the part where Wednesday dies. To be specific, I just finished the chapter on mammoth gods, which, I agree, was just a little bit strange. However, these random scenes that are ever present in our discussion seem a lot more relevant to me now. These are all the stories of the “old gods” and how they got to America (hence the titles, Coming to America). Every one of the scenes is about a god or a worshiper of one or more of these foreign gods, explaining how the current old, tired ones came to be, and how they seem to be trapped in this godless country. This idea is really fascinating – America is one of (the only?) country without a national religion, due to its bill of rights. Without a focus on religion, since, well, there isn’t really one religion for everyone to focus on, it’s easy to see how in the modern world, attention quickly switches to celebrities, technology, and money. And so, as this idea becomes more and more developed, my respect for American Gods grows.

    The twist of Wednesday dying was extremely abrupt for me, and, like Eric mentioned, makes me want to rush straight into the final part of the book (I almost skipped the Eskimo section). The title of part three is The Moment of The Storm, which leads me to think that everything before has merely been the gathering of it. If so, it has been a long buildup (300 pages and countless random cut scenes), and I hope it’ll be worth the wait. But at this point, my one complaint is I’m not even sure how this war will be waged – a bunch of old people running at an army of Mr. (object)’s? The abilities of each god haven’t even been made clear yet. Sure, there have been unmissable little things like the forgettable god’s aura, the alternate forms of each god during their initial meeting in Wednesday’s head, and the journey through “the backstage”. But there are still so many details that are left unclear. That is worrying, as now there’s a lot of pressure on the final hundred pages to wrap it up, since I’m pretty sure there isn’t a sequel to this book. I trust Gaiman to do so masterfully, but for now there’s nothing I can do but keep reading!

  10. Okay, American Gods is a little bit crazy. But crazy is not always a bad thing. So I think we can mostly agree that the plot has become a lot more energetic and action-packed.
    One thing that kind of caught me eye was the symbolism of Hinzelmann’s hand-tied trout flies. Shadow describes them as “colorful fakes of life, made of feather and thread, each with a hook hidden inside it” (Gaiman 784). I saw this as a depiction of the gods, who have fallen to lives imitating mankind as frauds. Like Wednesday, Zorya Vechernyaya, and Bilquis, they now rely on manipulating mortals. (Side note, my page numbers are very different as I have the ebook.)
    It’s kind of fitting how after discussing dreams in Romeo Juliet, we encounter interactions and mention of dreams in American Gods. Of course, these are not the dreams of a mere mortal. Unless you normally dream of mountains of skulls, twenty-foot thunderbirds, and the buffalo man. Interestingly enough, in this world of fantasy, dreams can have real-world effects, as demonstrated when everyone supposedly feels the effects of Shadow’s dreams. Which is kind of confusing as I am left feeling like Shadow has his own supernatural abilities. I’m not sure anymore as in chapter five, he also conjured snowfall through his thoughts.
    Hey Allen, to answer your question about Mama Zouzou, I saw it as a story of how old gods become devalued and corrupted in the New World. It was passing from a true believer and faithful practitioner like Mama Zouzou to a self-interested opportunist like Marie Laveau, who goes through the motions but has no interest in or understanding of the powers that she is calling upon. She channels their power and puts them to work for her own commercial gain and increased social status: in Mama Zouzou’s America, even the gods are a commodity.
    I am very impressed by Neil Gaiman’s depth of research. It seems that almost every character we have encountered has had some symbolic significance. For example, in Eric’s reference to the story of Agasu and Wututu, each of those characters represent historical characters. Like Eric mentioned, Wututu mentored Marie Laveau. Not only was the elder Laveau a frequent practitioner of voodoo arts, but her daughter, Marie Laveau II often performed public acts of Haitian voodoo in New Orleans. I found Agasu to the exact representation of François Mackandal. This depiction was accurate down to the lost arm and death by French colonial authorities. Of course, these connections were only found after extensive research, which makes me astounded by the amount of time and effort Neil Gaiman spent tying his novel to history.
    However, I am confused as to why Mr. Ibis was the one who introduced the story of Agasu and Wututu. Why was we writing it down? And why did mention a the story of Nazi before diving into the slave trade?
    As for some other random connections, I was intrigued by the presence of more trickster gods, specifically Wisakedjak, a Cree character, who also goes by the name of Inktomi. This was weird as Iktomi, not Inktomi, is supposed to be a Lakota trickster god. There is also Mr. Nancy as Anansi and of course, Low-Key Lyesmith as Loki. Woah, didn’t see that coming. But seriously, what’s with the congregation of tricksters? Also, Alviss son of Vindalf. Sounds like Elvis right? I’m not sure anymore.
    When I first read about Wednesday’s death, I was also very confused about it. The novel had more than a quarter of content left yet one of the central characters dies. Like Eric mentioned, it’s an interesting move by Gaiman but I think it ultimately resolves well.
    Just another thing I picked up, Wednesday really loves to eat, doesn’t he? Gaiman always makes a point in these scenes of how Wednesday eats everything with relish, no matter how unimpressive or unappetizing it is. It could be meant to play into his persona as a wandering grifter, having to wait between meals on occasion, and certainly needing to enjoy food no matter where it comes from – the showman’s “feast or famine” mentality. On the other hand, when you subside on human sacrifices and are then forced not to, maybe you need more food than usual. Maybe it doesn’t taste like much of anything, so you pretend it all tastes good.
    Did anybody else get Technical Boy’s low key parody of Madonna’s song Material Girl? While he kills Bilquis and cursing “All you [expletive] madonnas” (Gaiman 1010). Didn’t think so.

  11. ericsnell1

    Chapters 16-20:

    Even though the middle of the book, especially the Lakeside scenes, seemed to take forever, the last quarter went by all too quickly. Gaiman, in the end, managed to wrap everything up beautifully.

    Looking back on it, the only reason to not like this book would be the middle. The beginning was gripping and well done, and the ending was even more riveting and well described. The imagery in chapter 16 was particularly good: “He looked at the first path with a feeling of recognition. It opened into a vast chamber, or a set of chambers, like a dark museum. He knew it already. He could hear the long echoes of tiny noises. He could hear the noise that dust makes as it settles… the endless memorial hall to the gods that were forgotten, and the ones whose very existence had been lost” (477). In this chapter, especially, Gaiman’s talent shrined through. His depiction of Shadow’s journey in the afterlife was original, yet still true to legend and managed to pull in most of the characters in the book. If anything, this was the chapter that was most like the Percy Jackson series.

    In fact, the only section where I didn’t like Neil Gaiman’s descriptions and creativity was the section where Laura was still rotting. They were, if anything, a bit too descriptive.

    The second greatest thing in these chapters would have to be the character development. Even though it’s the end of the book, Neil Gaiman is constantly using dialogue and decision making to establish the personalities of the characters. An example of this would be when the Technical Boy says, “It’s not going to be a battle. All we’re facing here is a f***ing paradigm shift. It’s a shakedown. Modalities like battle are so f***ing Lao Tzu” (494). It just seems exactly like something a fat manifestation of the internet would say. Offensive, vulgar, yet somewhat informed. I feel like the characters are the greatest part of this book: each one is unique and lends a special perspective to the book. Take Laura, for example. Even though it’s more than three quarters into the book, Gaiman continues to develop her through scenes such as the one in which she hitchhikes with Mr. Town and then murders him. She obviously loves Shadow, but she’s also a cold-hearted dead murderer who’ll do anything to accomplish her goals. She, like Shadow and the Technical Boy, are some of the most unique characters in any book I’ve ever read.

    But nothing can compare to the plot twists. Harry Potter? Pfft. That only has two plot twists. Anyway, only one character comes back from the dead, whereas in American Gods, three people do. (If you’re reading this and still haven’t finished the book, then stop reading now). To be perfectly honest, I never saw it coming that the whole war was invented by Odin and Loki in order, and if I hadn’t researched the name Hinzelmann in order to see if it was an allusion, I would have never seen that part coming either. And when Mr. Wednesday died. And when Shadow died.

    My ultimate point is this: although the middle of the book was boring, this section did a great job of keeping the book creative and engaging through the great descriptions and character development as well as the plot twists.

  12. andrewliu31

    I agree with you, Eric, that the rising action part of this book lacked a little suspense, tenseness, and well, ACTION, that “the gathering of the storm”, as it is named, should. But wow, what a great finish! The last 60 or so pages kept me hooked and not wanting to stop – I read it all at once, whereas I read the previous parts of the book in small 20 page sections (which explains why I was so slow :). It definitely gave me that Percy Jackson – Artemis Fowl – type of feeling. The main thing reminiscent of these other fiction books was the quick switching back and forth from different scenes without really completing the scene, and they coming back to it later. Most of the time, the end of each one had a mini-cliffhanger.
    Examples: “‘You must really want to know what happened to those friends of yours?’…So she showed him [End scene]” (407). “She had to wait until he [Loki] got close enough. She had that much figured out [Let’s end the scene and switch to Shadow riding a giant eagle!]” (411). “Because,…the ice is melting” (432).
    How is one supposed to stop reading until the immediate conflict brought up is resolved, especially when more often than not, there’s more than one conflict? He’s not. At this point in the plot, the climax, the reader is not supposed to put the book down, no matter how late it is (12:00 AM in case you guys are wondering); and with this technique Gaiman utilizes, he really won’t. This final rush of non-stop action used in a final sprint to the finish is very familiar to me, as it is almost always used in the aforementioned books.

    I have to say, I am very satisfied with how this book turned out. I especially enjoyed the plot twists with Loki and Odin’s betrayal, and Shadow and Wednesday’s deaths. In particular, when I found out Shadow’s father was Wednesday, I slowly put the book down, placed both my hands on my temples (think Eric Snell), and said “WHAT”

    Once again, the only thing I found lacking about this book was the lack of development in the middle; which god was which, Shadow’s role, the significance of Lakeside/Hinzelmann, the purpose of the war, etc. were all crammed in the end. Although it did make for a more explosive finish, I thought the same result could be achieved with a little more hinting at the aforementioned plot twists and revelations, maybe even fight scenes, put into the middle. However, this is not to say that foreshadowing was absent entirely – it was definitely there, with all the old god stories. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and it was filled with some excellent writing.

  13. definitelynotallen

    (Haha, this is super late isn’t it.)

    Now that Andrew is finished, I can explode about how amazing the book was. Sure, the middle of the book took forever, as Eric mentioned, but the ENDING. SO GOOD. I did not see the ending coming AT ALL. When I got to the revealing of the two-man con game between Odin and Loki, I had trouble wrapping by mind around it and had to read the section three times before I finally understood. Actually, the plot twists in general are SO AMAZING. (Apologies for the caps, but I can’t help it. I’m 100% serious.) Odin/Wednesday is Shadow’s dad? WHAT? (Same, Andrew.) Wednesday just died?! How is that supposed to work? Now Shadow is dead, but his dead wife still isn’t?

    Anyway, I must agree with you, Andrew: the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter really got to me. You also mentioned how the book reminded you of Percy Jackson, and I also wholly agree. In fact, the cliffhangers themselves remind me of Percy Jackson. You know how in the Heroes of Olympus series, every chapter is narrated by a different protagonist? Well, Riordan felt the need to have every single narrator change be a cliffhanger, and it seems Gaiman is using the technique as well. And obviously, it makes you want to read more, which is why I read the book so quickly. I’m not sure about Chuck and Eric, but that’s what made me finish the book as fast as I could.

    For my next point, I actually wanted to kind of defend the seeming boringness of the middle section, despite the fact that I personally wasn’t a big fan of it. After consideration, the middle section actually seemed to also make me continue reading, just like the cliffhangers. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think it may be because the relative dullness spurred me on to get to more exciting parts. Just a thought, though.

    In all, however, American Gods is an amazing book. Even in the boring sections, the writing was exceptional and continued to hold my interest, albeit not as much. But that all was overshadowed by the explosive, insane ending. Like, wow. I am thoroughly impressed.

  14. I could not help but be amazed by the conclusion. Like Eric has mentioned multiple times, the ending of American Gods is so satisfying. In the process of ending the novel, Neil Gaiman is able to wrap up so many loose ends.
    Like I mentioned earlier, I am still confused as to what kind of person Shadow really is. Not like his personality but I am confused to if he is a god or merely a powerful mortal. Once again, he demonstrates an unnatural ability, this time, the ability to remove memories from Chad Mulligan.
    I was also confused about what happened to Laura. After she drank the water from Urd’s Well, she changes. For some reason, she is able to spit actual saliva and bleed. What? So what was she exactly when Shadow first gave her the coin and what did she become when she drank the water? I do know for certain that after she got her coin taken, though, she went back to what she should have been all along, dead.
    I had begun to worry that we wouldn’t see much of the buildup to the war between the gods, but Gaiman gives us every bit of setting up to it, and it’s weird, disturbing, and shocking.
    My favorite scene from this section was at Rock City when the gods began pouring in, and I loved how surreal it was. Gaiman basically dumps so many gods and deities into our laps here; as I mentioned before, I can’t even conceive of how much research must have gone into this book. It’s fascinating to me how these gods, many who have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, are contrasted with elements of American society, like limos and a Toyota Previa, with U-Hauls and fast food. This place in Georgia is now witness to the most bizarre collision of culture, religion, and mythology imaginable. It’s so Gaiman. Also, karaoke after stopping a possibly apocalyptic battle is an interesting way to celebrate but sure seems like a Gaiman way to do things.
    I’m a little sad about Hinzelmann though. I thought that he was just a nice old man. Turns out he was actually a murderer who particularly liked to kill children. Though you have to give the guy credit, I mean he did kind of keep the town alive despite all the hard times.
    Overall it’s been a good journey. Yes, the plot twists were amazing and the two-man con was great but I am still amazed by Neil Gaiman’s writing and research. It amazes me how somebody like him has been around for so long without becoming a household name. Gaiman gave me everything I had asked for, all I could want now is a sequel through Sam’s perspective.

  15. ericsnell1

    As Chuck has remembered about his fourth blog post, I’m going to go ahead and post my final review of American Gods.

    To start off, I’d give this book 8/10 stars, although it probably would have been a 9 if I hadn’t started the book with the expectation for the book to be deep and meaningful. If I was more open minded, I would probably have forgiven the fact that the meaning isn’t terribly obvious.

    The best part of the book, for me, was the originality of the plot. Having read lots of science fiction books, I’ve seen a lot of repeats. The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon, Eldest, etc.) is basically LOTR mixed with Star Wars (although it’s more fantasy than sci-fi). Even the names are pretty much the same.

    This link points out the similarities:

    But anyway, American Gods is a very original idea and is a good read just because of that. It does a great job of avoiding the typical plot of a science fiction novel.

    Another good thing about the book is that the characters were unique. Shadow’s definitely not the stereotypical protagonist who’s out to save the world from something terrible; he’s loyal, but his motivations and beliefs are rather unclear. My favorite character, the Technical Boy, is equally well-crafted. All of his lines fit the internet in a way that I’ve never seen before, and this is part of what makes American Gods such a great book. As Chuck has said, the depth of research that went into making this book is tremendous. It seems like almost every character is based off of mythology, even the non-central ones like Hinzelmann. In addition, the setting was very well developed, mostly because Neil Gaiman actually traveled to those places when he wrote it. (Fun fact: I actually went to Rock City when I lived in Georgia)

    But it all comes back to this: despite the well developed and original plot, the interesting characters, and the research, Neil Gaiman missed an amazing opportunity. If the book had been a little less random and a bit more meaningful, American Gods would have become a true classic. It has all of the other elements of a great story, but could have used just a bit more symbolism or a slightly more obvious meaning.

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