American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition

October 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

godsAmerican Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman

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I first read American Gods in 2001, right after its release. I remember surprisingly little of it. I mostly remember images, scenes, quotes, and ideas, with the plot going right out of my head. I just finished watching the television show, and figured I should refamiliarize myself with the entire story, and was surprised to see there was a “preferred author’s text” edition. Naturally, I decided to read that version. I toyed with the idea of re-reading the original printing, but after looking up the answer on Google, I discovered the changes appear to be small, incidental ones that make little difference in the plot, along with a new foreword and afterword, as well as a deleted scene that appears outside of its context in the story.

The story is about Shadow, an ex-con who has just been released from prison a few days short of the end of his term when his wife dies in a car accident. On his way back for the funeral, he meets an odd man who wants to hire him as a bodyguard/errand man/assistant sort of position. This encounter is the first in a series of odd, otherworldly encounters with a series of characters, none of whom are what they appear to be.

The story is also about gods, religion, faith, and belief. This, I think, is the reason why I remembered images, scenes, quotes, and ideas more than anything else: The bulk of the story is about ideas. Gaiman peppers the story with old gods in the same way Kim Newman peppers Anno Dracula with other fictional vampires. The novel is its own Easter egg hunt, enough so that I was hitting Google every time a new god showed up (and enough so that I can see real value in an annotated edition of the book).

When I first read the book, I was impressed with its premise, but less so with its execution. I still don’t see it as the quintessential Gaiman book (I still point to Stardust for that), but my take on the novel improved with this read. I think it helps to have seen the show, since it helped anchor some of the characters in my head. They’re not as difficult to place as, say, the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, but having Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in my head definitely helped (even if their physical appearances in the book were different).

I saw some new aspects of the story, too, which is typical of a re-read. Knowing some of the secrets that were to come later in the story helped me isolate some of the foreshadowing and uncover the clues. Most important, though, was the way Gaiman wove the Native American gods into the story. I missed that the first time around, which is surprising, since there’s a recurring theme and character who makes it pretty obvious.

Plot-wise, the story still seems a bit thin, especially for a 750-page book, but there’s a lot to pass through on the way to the conclusion. The middle of the book feels circuitous and almost pointless, but it’s Gaiman’s way of introducing us to more gods and tying them to the main theme of the novel.

I’ve read a lot about how the showrunners have gone off-book, but I was surprised to see how faithful the show has been, even with its changes. The biggest change seems to be in Laura, Shadow’s wife, and Mad Sweeney, a six-foot-tall leprechaun, in that they expand their back stories. It seems like they’re also playing around with the plot, though, based on the conclusion of the first season, which doesn’t exist at all in the book. I’m intrigued to see where it goes, though, especially considering that Gaiman is also one of the producers of the show, and presumably signed off on the changes that have been made.

I’d recommend American Gods to anyone with an interest in mythology or anyone who hasn’t yet read anything by Gaiman. Given that this edition exists, I don’t see why someone wouldn’t choose the expanded edition over the original text, unless they’re just curious to do the comparison. I expect a lot of people will be reading it, thanks to the show.

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