This is one of the longest waits I have had before reviewing a book, in my—what? eight?—years doing reviews on The Starving Artist. It might even be the longest, but it’s not like I have that info handy to check. I mean, the point of these reviews is to share, sure, but also to remember, so I do try to review a book very soon after reading it. Sometimes my best intentions are not good enough. And the case of my (not) reviewing American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001) is meandering and not extremely interesting. But the gist of it is that I read the book, it felt a little overwhelming to review, and I let it marinade a second. At the same time, I fell really behind on my reviews, like more than I have at any other point in this blog’s history. After awhile I started catching up, but for some reason this happened backwards, which left the first book read to the be the last I caught up on. Just now.
So because it has been years, I’m not sure I can do this book justice, at least not in the literary details. But the reason I am even bringing this up (besides transparency) is because I can still review it after years, because it is that memorable. In fact, I would claim that it contains several scenes that are stuck in my mind forever. So I’m going to make this review quick, but honest to the memory.
American Gods is rich in detail, written decently well, and horrific. It’s psychedelic, trippy, and smart. It has a lot to say about culture and yanks in various religions, mythology, and a fair smattering of the underground. Which means that this book is also dirty, grimy, and how I would most likely refer to it, gritty. The characters are memorable. Not sure any of them were likable, though several were detestable and some were down-right terrifying, in that super-focused, intensity addled, grody way. We’re talking violence, sex, and all the vices, and none of them with the volume turned down. We’re talking criminals and pawns and an epic battle between the American gods, some of which are transplanted old gods and some of which are ideologically scary as hell, pun intended. Perhaps there are those people who can do a bit of light reading and just enjoy the story behind American Gods, but I was born to take things seriously, I guess. And what’s more, I don’t enjoy the seedy underbelly of things. I just don’t. I’m a grit lightweight. Not ashamed of that, though it has its limitations. And I’ll never be able to wash enough to get some of the more depraved scenes out of my head.
Don’t think you’ll pick this book up and just taste it, because the real mess starts with the first scenes. And then, really, the story and storytelling become addictive. There are some cool things about this book, and it has been enjoyed by many people, though my impression from more reader-ly people that I know is that this is below them. Like it’s trying too hard. Maybe. It was difficult for me to see beyond the flash and the willingness to follow any direction Gaiman wanted to go, no matter how bizarre. I might even say that I like this book, but given the chance, I might go back and un-read it. Not sure. It does have some interesting observations about life, and especially American life, in it. And it underscores what you risk by messing with that which we idolize, or just by idolizing anything, especially the more earthy elements.
In the end, though, it felt like Gaiman just wanted to tell a good story, come moral or high water, even though it might bathe the reader in depravity, and that’s what he did. Not sure the ending was as fulfilling as other parts of the story, but, like a broken record, I’ll say it again: it is memorable.
There is a TV show currently airing on Starz and is in its second season. If the book was scarring to me, though, I don’t know if I can handle it. I’ll say this: just a Google search of the images tells me that it is very true to the original material. I could tell, quickly, who was who and even what scene I was looking at. I expect it to be gritty, psychedelic, and character-based.