Have you ever read a book by an author—and thoroughly enjoyed it—but when the opportunity arose to read another book by that same author you vacillated about it for months on end, even years, until finally surrendering and consequently ridiculing yourself for waiting so long? Is that a profoundly specific series of events only applicable to me? Likely. It is also the profoundly specific series of events which transpired upon my recent reading of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
I haven’t met a Gaiman book I didn’t like. This is partly why the frustration with my delay runs so deep. I’ve owned a copy of the book for so long I sometimes thought I already had read it. However, it only took my analysis of the first chapter (“Wow!”) before unequivocally knowing I had not previously read American Gods.
My post-reading confirms that Gaiman isn’t the first person to attempt a modern day “Old Gods in New Lands” story, and I suppose I knew that. Rather, it’s how Gaiman constructs the narrative that elevates this to Olympia heights. Shadow (the protagonist’s name) has just been released from prison. Thinking he will return to his old life, he finds the one he left isn’t there anymore: his wife and best friend are both dead. Now a loner and a drifter he hooks up with an equal parts gregarious and licentious grifter who offers to hire him and who just might turn out to be a god in disguise. A war is imminent as the gods of old countries prepare their final battle with America’s new gods (Television, Entertainment, Shopping Malls, Wealth) and Shadow is caught in the middle of the uprising.
What separates this idea from the others like it is Gaiman’s vision. He crafts the story in a way that I cannot put into words without trivializing its significance. He manipulates language and builds characters so seamlessly that I sometimes forgot it was happening. Because I’m constantly analyzing writing, it’s often tough for me to get lost in a narrative, but it happened here. Obliquely to this point, no small number of sci-fi/fantasy authors can be labeled prolific. I’ve reviewed several of them previously. They have large followings and propitiate their ravenous readers by pumping out novel after novel practically at the same rate that mere mortals like you and I get the hiccups. Yet, they have a shortcoming: because they are producing material so fast, inevitably some of that production will be deficient in quality.
Neil Gaiman is a different beast altogether. I’m sure he’s constantly writing, but at the estimate of a novel or collection every two years (which I’m still envious of), I don’t consider him prolific. But speed isn’t the point, it’s the content. I confess I haven’t read everything by him, but I’m confident enough to say, that I don’t believe he’s written a bad book. No, let me up the ante. He hasn’t even written a mediocre book. As with American Gods, each of them captures and encapsulates a sense of sublime wonder within the supernatural and the paranormal which, to me, is the greatest accomplishment fantasy should strive for. And we have a few copies in stock! 4.5/5 Stars.