Thanks to the Author’s Preferred Text edition of American Gods, this is not a Come Lately Review, even though the original book was published in 2001.
As with all reviews, this one may contain spoilers. You have been warned.
I actually read the two American Gods (AG) novellas published in Fragile Things and Trigger Warnings respectively. So you would think the ending of AG would have been spoiled for me, on the grounds that Shadow is obviously alive by the end. I also read a couple of the essays in Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century that specifically reference AG and the themes therein, and those contained even bigger spoilers than what I will reveal. Yet I still read AG with a fresh and open heart, unspoiled by anything.
At the heart of the story is the central idea that we are responsible for creating and feeding our gods. Almost a year before this book was originally published, I wrote a story about a kid who accidentally pees on a spider web. The spider then chases him through the woods because as it turns out, the spider is a demigod, created when a bunch of kids began feeding insects to him in a ceremonious fashion. The spider is simply after an apology, which the main character offers without haste.
Rest assured, I will rewrite that story and polish it. Because American Gods reawakened my confidence in that story.
Neil Gaiman is not only a master of the adult fairy tale, but his ability to make minor characters that only appear once in the story seem as three dimensional and sympathetic as any of the main cast is a vastly underrated talent that many of us as aspiring writers would do well to cultivate. He did this in Neverwhere as well, and as I continue my binge reading journey of his work, I’m sure I will find it in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Also evident is Neil Gaiman’s affection for America. This was not a British author writing about a place he had never been to. Gaiman actually spent time travelling across America, envisioning Shadow’s journey and actually visiting places that he depicted in the story. He also invented a really clever con for the purposes of the story that someone in Canada (I was unable to find a link to the article, but Gaiman mentions this in the book) actually successfully tried and was arrested for, but you can’t blame the author for how the reader interprets your work (although it is one of my basic fears) .
Simply put, this book is a love letter to America.