American Gods

American Gods (Audio Book version)

by Neil Gaiman
Read by George Guidall

When immigrants came to the New World they brought as much of their lives along with them as they could carry — not only the ways they liked to cook or have their coffee, or the ways they dressed or the languages they spoke, they also brought along the gods of the old world.

Well, America, it turns out, is a bad place for gods.

Shadow is about to get out of jail when he learns his wife has been killed in a car accident. On the plane ride home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday is not just another well dressed businessman: he’s a petty thief, a con artist, a lover of women, and oh, by the way he’s also Odin, All Father of the Norse pantheon. He has a job for Shadow.

We follow Shadow’s trip across America as he does his work for Mr. Wednesday — sometimes its familiar terrain, and often it’s the America you only see in dreams or in the movies. Everyone he meets adds their own story to his, and everyone has a stake in the coming war — because there will be war — between the gods of the old world, and the American gods.

Now, when you’re writing about gods and heroes — and devils and demons, you’re writing on a grand scale, but Gaiman gets inside a lot of these people — well, some of them seem like people — and even old cranks like the hammer wielding Slavic monster Czernobog, he becomes as human as any chain-smoking old man you’d see on the bus.

My favorite character is probably Shadow’s dead wife Laura. Just because she’s dead doesn’t make her a bad person, in fact even though her new undead condition is extremely creepy — the poor girl decays a little more realistically than I was expecting, she’s very brave and I liked when she showed up although Shadow understandably found it pretty upsetting. I was also very fond of Mr. Ibis, who, like his bird-headed Egyptian counterpart, sees to the dead — in this country, he’s now an undertaker. Part of the fun of this story is puzzling out who the cat is, who the old black man is, what about the prostitute, was she a goddess in the old world? Like I said, America is tough on its gods.

Of course, the old world gods, seemingly more dear to Mr. Gaiman, were a lot more interesting than their new world rivals — the gods of the TV, commerce, electricity — I did like the idea of the gods of conspiracy theory, though.  (And I got all excited when Delirium of the Endless from the Sandman series made a cameo appearance.)

I kept thinking as I was listening to what happened to Tinkerbelle — the original one, not the Disney Tinkerbelle. She knew, like the old gods in this book know, that once a god — or a fairy — has no one to believe in them, they fade away. Tinkerbelle was a mean little thing and wasn’t willing to go down without a fight, and neither are the gods stuck in America. Even though Shadow is on the side of Mr. Wednesday and the old world gods, they aren’t above using him, tricking him, seducing him and conning him to get their way.

Through Shadow, Gaiman gets to talk about sacrifice, trickery, coin tricks, roadside attractions, and the enduring power of legend. And there’s even a neat little murder mystery tucked into the larger story.

George Guidall’s narration was mesmerizing, he gets to show off his mastery of accents from Slavic to West Indian to Irish — you’ll love Mad Sweeney the Leprechaun — to the voices of the great state of Michigan.

This book lends itself extremely well to the transition to audio book. There are long sections where Gaiman retells some of the old stories, legends from the Cornish Coast, or from African myth, or from the Nile. Since these were all oral tradition to begin with, the impression of gathering at the edge of the dark woods to hear someone tell you a story is really driven home. You can almost smell the campfire.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman, read by George Guidall. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.

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