Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Book Cover Image: American Gods by Neil GaimanTitle: American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrators: Dennis Boutsikaris, Daniel Oreskes, Ron McLarty, Sarah Jones
ISBN: 9780062101914
Length of Audiobook: 19 hours, 39 minutes
Genre: Fantasy

“A storm is coming . . .

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.”

Thoughts: For thousands of years, humans have considered their gods to exist, to walk the Earth, and interact with humanity. In AMERICAN GODS, Neil Gaiman takes this historical folklore and belief system and turns it on its head. For not only are these very same gods real, they are no longer immortal and all-powerful. New gods have come to usurp their place in the hearts and souls of humans, and subsequently their powers. The battle is brewing between the two opposing forces, and poor Shadow finds himself facing situations that border on impossible while trying to make sense of it all.

Shadow is a great main character. His confusion is the reader’s confusion. More importantly, the vulnerability created by the loss of his wife and best friend and his reacclimation to the outside world creates an instantaneous bond with the reader. His role in the pending storm is one of the Everyman, as Shadow represents the layperson among the deities.

Still, the gods do steal the show. Their sufferings, their views of the world, and their personalities create these larger-than-life characters that are utterly and miserably human. It is at once humorous and yet somewhat depressing. If Shadow is the Everyman, the ancient gods as a whole are anything that has ever been deemed obsolete. They are the stone tools and the horse-drawn carriage. They are the Victrola and cassette tapes. They are hunting and gathering and cooking over hearthstones. As amusing as they are, there is an underlying sadness that accompanies their scenes in the story. No one wants to be forgotten, not even the immortal.

One of the more delightful aspects of AMERICAN GODS is how subtle the entire story is. Mr. Gaiman does not beat readers over the head with obvious explanations of the gods involved in this fight. Instead, he weaves these gods into the story in such a way that an unobservant reader may completely miss who is whom and where the story is going. Observant readers, however, will come to realize that Mr. Gaiman gives them all the answers – to the identity of the gods and to the final scenes of the novel – well before the big reveal. The trick and the fun is in trying to decipher the clues about the characters as well as about the story. This is one story where predicting the plot in no way detracts from one’s overall enjoyment.

Full productions of audiobooks can be tricky. If there is not enough dialogue, the entire production can become stilted. Each time a new voice breaks the flow of the main narrator, it can draw a listener’s focus away from the story and onto the new voice. AMERICAN GODS does not suffer from this fate. In fact, one might be compelled to say that this full cast production of Mr. Gaiman’s masterpiece is only enhanced by the multitude of voices. The amount of dialogue lends itself well to multiple narrators; because each major character was treated to his or her own narrator, this helps the listener follow the dialogue more easily than if one person was trying to enact all of the voices. There is also the addition of audio clues in the form of accents and intonation that also helped the figures come to life. Between the audio production and Mr. Gaiman’s strong descriptions, the figures become more than a set of isolated voices but rather something much fuller and almost visual. This is an outstanding audio experience.

AMERICAN GODS is a stunning novel and leaves no surprises as to why it has earned Mr. Gaiman so many accolades and awards. Extremely well-written, the reader is taken on a whirlwind adventure filled with displaced, humanized gods seeking to reclaim some of their former glory. It is a premise that is breathtaking in its scope and ambition and lives up to it all.

Acknowledgements: Mine. All mine.

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