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Books: American Gods
Have you ever finished a book and immediately thought "Man, I want to read that again!" That's not how I felt after reading American Gods, the Hugo award winning book from Neil Gaimen. Instead, I though "I should read that book again -- because I wasn't really paying that much attention the first time".
Although this is the first Gaiman novel I've read, I owned and enjoyed the entire run of Sandman back in the day. Based on that, I kind of knew what I was getting into: something mystical, something humorous, something with great ideas to spare. And American Gods is all of these things, no doubt about it. But it still failed to really grip me like I wanted it to.
Our protagonist is Shadow, a man released from prison only to discover that he has nothing to return to. Now direction-less, he is immediately enlisted up by a couple of guys who may be grifters or ancient gods or both. One of them, Mr. Wednesday, claims a huge, metaphysical shitstorm is coming, and needs help with some logistical details; seeking funds and a purpose, Shadow swears allegiance to Wednesday and soon finds himself enmeshed in a theological scrimmage.
American Gods reads a lot like Stephen King's early stuff, and I mean that as a compliment. (Snobs like to dismiss King's work as pedestrian, but there's no doubt that the guy is eminently readable). But like King (and Tolkien, for that matter), Gaimen tends to be a bit prolix -- at 600 pages, this book should have been two-thirds as long, perhaps halved. It starts out slow, then picks up steam, then goes into a 150-page holding pattern about halfway through. Although intermittently riveting, it took me weeks to get from one end of the book to the other. Part of the problem was my schedule (my stint on jury duty was going on at the time, leaving me intellectually exhausted every evening), but some of the blame must be attributed to American Gods' sheer verbosity.
This would have been a perfect vacation book, something to devour over a few airplane rides when you have no alternative (except SkyMall) to soldiering on through the dry patches. And although I found myself vaguely disappointed at not being fully engaged, I could see myself reading it again at some future date when I have the mental resources to give it my full attention. As it stands, I recommend American Gods to those who have the time and wherewithal to read 600 pages of book to enjoy and darned good 400-page story.Posted on November 06, 2002 to Books