By Chet Yarbrough
By Neil Gaiman
Narrated by George Guidall
“American Gods” takes a listener on a journey filled with magic, mystery, suspense, and universal meaning. It offers insight to the comfort and terror mankind receives from belief and denial of gods and human beings.
“American Gods” blends stories like “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Witch and the Wardrobe”, “IQ84”, and “11/22/63” into a raucous adventure of myth, magic, parallel universes, the ancient past, and modern times.
One thinks “American Gods” is a carefully outlined thought experiment by a brilliant wordsmith but Neil Gaiman explains–“American Gods” comes from a serendipitous idea. How impressive it is that this master craftsman is able to write a book that organically evolves without structured intent. “American Gods” is a terrific yellow brick road entertainment.
With one main character and a multitude of American gods, Gaiman races through an imagined, surmised, and real history of North America. The story is set in Midwest America but its meaning resonates in every culture of the world. This is a story about gods and human culture. (An atheist might suggest it is also about God but that would be another book.)
A man named Shadow is the main character. Shadow is an extraordinary man. In the beginning of Gaiman’s story, Shadow is released from prison just as he finds his wife has been killed in a car crash. His prison cell mate is a man named Low-Key, a first clue to Shadow’s journey into myths and legends of “American Gods”. Low-Key like Shadow is a matryoska doll’–a nom de plume with meaning within meanings.
Leaving prison, Shadow heads home to be at his wife’s wake. He catches a plane that is diverted by a storm. The diversion is an unexpected event that becomes surreal when Shadow is seated next to a man named Wednesday. The seating seems fortuitous but it turns out to be planned. The man seated next to Shadow introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday on a day that happens to be Wednesday.
With little preamble, Mr. Wednesday says “Hello Shadow”.. Shadow asks how he knows his name. Wednesday seems to know everything about Shadow’s life and eventually convinces Shadow to go to work for him as a gopher and body-guard. One wonders, if Wednesday is a god, but why would a god need a gopher and a body-guard? Is this just a con game? Yes it is; and no it is not.
Symbols and dreams become recurring elements of Gaiman’s story. Coins, birds, cats, tourist gathering places, and trees are magical bearers of good and bad omens. Like Dorothy’s ruby shoes, C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe, Murakami’s manhole covered tunnel, and King’s burger joint basement, the common becomes extraordinary.
“American Gods” is great fun, highly imaginative, and something more than a tale of magic and mystery.