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American Gods, Take Two

By Paula Guran

[One of two reviews by the same reviewer of the same book. Click here to read the other.]

Neil Gaiman
Morrow/ $26/ 432 pp.
ISBN 0380973650

Neil Gaiman did not set out to become any sort of spiritual guide when he wrote AMERICAN GODS, but the book may make him into one. It has the potential to become a "generational novel" -- a book that articulates something of the meaning of existence for members of a cultural/countercultural group. (Kerouac and Burroughs in the 50s; Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was one of several in the 60s; I'm not sure what books served the 70s, but I hope JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL wasn't among them; maybe for the 80s it was Gibson's NEUROMANCER; the 90s? Douglas Coupland? You tell me.)

Book CoverBut now it's a new century and Neil Gaiman has come up with a magnificent modern fantasy that entertains while inspiring a faith of sorts, perhaps just a belief in oneself. The premise isn't new -- What happens to the old gods in whom no one believes anymore? What happens when new gods arise? -- but the author makes it his own. Gaiman uses America -- a place where many peoples brought their gods and then abandoned them -- as his canvas. Mixing cultures, sociology, theology, history, mythology, unique perspective, and slam-bang good storytelling he paints a tale that deserve more than one reading. (One read should be just to test your knowledge of mythology.)

Like the main character, Shadow, we're just along for the ride on this winding revelatory road trip. Shadow has emerged from three years in prison with his anticipated new life swept away by the sudden death of his wife. A roguish old con man, Mr Wednesday, offers Shadow employment as an errand boy and bodyguard. Shadow is soon living in the midst of magic, intrigue, danger, and mystery as he accompanies Wednesday on jaunts to enlist the aid of various dimming deities for an ultimate showdown between the old gods and the new gods of modern technology. We journey through myth (both ancient and new) with the charming (if fantastic) characters and eventually find America (even if we aren't looking for it.) America turns out to be a much darker place than you might have imagined and very little is as it seems to be. But, amid the illusion and the dark, America offers real redemption -- the kind that requires both sacrifice and enlightenment.

Fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, romance -- don't bother with labels, AMERICAN GODS offers a bit of everything and a considerable amount of indefinable "more." --Paula Guran -- From The Spook #1

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Copyright © 2002 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.