I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read Neil Gaiman, but American Gods (2001) made me want to methodically read each and every book he has written. (And I have very little time, in general, for white male authors, so this statement is meaningful for me.) Gaiman has described it as a “mythic thriller” because it’s not exactly fantasy, or science fiction, or horror, although there are aspects of each, and it is a sprawling epic.
The protagonist is Shadow, a man just released from prison, early, because his wife has died. He meets a man called “Wednesday,” who asks him to be his assistant–errand boy, bodyguard, driver–whatever is needed. As a newly-widowed ex-con, he figures he doesn’t have much to lose because he’s lost nearly everything already. So he joins Wednesday and strange things begin to happen as they road trip across the midwest to visit people Wednesday needs to see, to recruit them to “his” side of what he tells Shadow is an upcoming war.
Most of the chapters are told from Shadow’s perspective, but occasionally Gaiman includes a chapter of a historical tale, or that tells the reader something that Shadow does not know. We find out that there are still Gods in America, ones that immigrants brought from the old world when they came here, but there are also new gods–of technology, media, the stock market, and globalization. And there is to be a war between the Old Gods and the New.
One of the strangest things that Shadow comes to accept is that his deceased wife, Laura, comes to see him and watch over him sometimes. She’s clearly dead, but she follows Shadow on his road trips and is an integral part of the story. In fact, the female characters are necessary parts of the whole, despite most of the main characters being male. They have agency and are fully-developed in their own right–they are not just playthings or accessories to the male characters. It’s wonderful to read a male author who writes female characters as whole people, and this makes me respect Gaiman even more than I had from reading his work on writing and art.
It is so well-plotted and intricate and twisty that I had to read the Wikipedia plot summary midway through the audiobook because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened! And a huge bonus was that I recall zero anti-fat bias. Gaiman didn’t describe fat characters in a negative way, and I recall some characters being fat, so I categorize it as weight-neutral.
Highly recommend, especially if you like a big meaty book to get lost in.