American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Another fantastic book by Neil Gaiman. This one is very dark. (Definitely not intended for a YA audience.) The subject matter is also huge: Jesus, just look at the title! American Gods . But that’s just the thing. There’s barely a mention of Jesus in a book with this title. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
This is a story about forgotten gods: the gods from the ‘old country’ which all immigrants brought with them to America and then abandoned. The main character named Shadow, devastated by the loss of his wife, falls under the sway of an old god who calls himself Wednesday. (You might guess here who he really is.) And Wednesday goes about recruiting other old gods for a war against the new American gods: namely those of technology, TV, and media. Score one for a great premise.
On the other side, Shadow as a character doesn’t have much of a will of his own, but with a name like that, perhaps he’s not meant to. Also, Gaiman has said that he meant this book to be sprawling, and it is. A bit too much. It isn’t very focused.
The biggest problem I had with American Gods was the absence of any direct discussion of the god who, right or wrong, really does hold some power in America: the Christian God/Jesus.
At first, I thought it was a fatal flaw in the story’s concept, (as a writer I might have put multiple Jesuses in the story, one for each different branch of American Christianity) But after some reflection, I think Gaiman is talking around Jesus on purpose.
All the other mythic gods have real elements of the Jesus story to them, and arguably, since they pre-date the Christian religion, the Jesus story is either based on them or deliberately stole elements of those myths (think the date of Christmas, Easter, or even the cross hanging death, all of which are not original to the Jesus story).
One thing is clear about the American gods: they all demand sacrifice, and the bloodier the better. And Jesus knows, there’s not much worse than that cross.
Overall, I highly recommend American Gods. It’s a thought–provoking read.
What do you think? Can you have a book called American Gods and not include Jesus? (And I’m talking in a literary sense; please no Bible banging. This is not the space for that.)
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs. They conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that belief, that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.” American Gods