“Not only are there no happy endings…There aren’t even any endings.”
Every time I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I find more things to adore about this novel. I read it this time while traveling across the United States, and I have to say, something about reading this book in transit just makes sense. It makes even more sense reading it while soaring over America itself, gazing down on fields and hills, a New Jersey import who lives in Chicago, went to LA a week or so ago, and just left Florida. There is something so intensely American about this novel, and it wows me every time. From the smaller mythic chapters telling folk tales and stories of the people who brought their gods to America, to the gods themselves and their characters, this novel always gets me. This was my third time reading this novel, and I’m going to dig deep to highlight new things that I had forgotten, so solid warning: Spoilers ahead.
I will never get over the way that Neil Gaiman melds together the idea of the gods and the land, and gives them both their own power and will. Something that wows me that I often forget about the standalone is now astoundingly diverse it is without being appropriative, and how Gaiman incorporates so many cultures, a diverse range of characters, as well as a huge amount of humor without it becoming problematic. I think this novel could be a guidebook for authors who want to know how to write diverse stories and mythos respectfully. I forgot about so many fantastic characters that Gaiman pours himself into, from Samantha Black Crow to side characters that brim with energy and character themselves, like Whiskey Jack’s son or Bilquis. I also never noticed before the two mentions of Mr. Nancy’s son that point to Anansi Boys. Not to mention the wealth of research and knowledge that goes into the bottomless well of background characters and visions leading up to the battle.
One thing I gained a new appreciation for in this novel was the character of Shadow. He is big, and not dumb, and I remembered all that, but what I forgot is how nice he is. Shadow’s such a cinnamon roll of a character, and I forget that. He stands up for a waitress and believes in the good of people. At the Lakeside library book sale, he tries to find the book that’s least likely to be purchased, so that he can help the library out by buying it. He performs coin tricks for children. He is obligated to hold Odin’s vigil, but he never questions whether he should also hold Mad Sweeney’s. As Laura speaks with the cutting, too-open words of the already-dead, Shadow still refuses to tell her about her appearance or to not hold her hand, because he doesn’t want to hurt her still. When Shadow picks up bodies with the coroners, he carries them always in his arms.
The scene between Shadow and Odin before his death is one of my absolute favorites (other favorite scenes include Samantha Black Crow’s protest kiss, the scene in which Shadow thinks snow into being, and Shadow’s long death scene). Odin recites to Shadow what he knows—the charms, in a long list. And it ends with that long scene where Shadow wonders what would have happened if he touched Odin’s hand, and wishes he had. And Odin’s twisting grift of the fiddle is so complicated and well done that even on the third re-read, I find myself forgetting about it until the moment Odin dies, and doubting myself on it until the moment Shadow says it out loud.
@neil-gaiman’s American Gods just gets better every time I read it, and I am cautiously thrilled and excited for the show coming out later this spring.
“It doesn’t matter that you didn’t believe in us. We believed in you.”