Picking Apart American Gods

Spoiler Warning! If you haven’t read American Gods, or if you’re watching the mini series as it airs on Starz, don’t read this yet!

This is the last Neil Gaiman book for awhile, I promise. At least, until I finish Norse Mythology.

I really loved American Gods. It’s a perfect example of a good book always being too short. Because, even though I read the Author’s Preferred Text and it was a hefty read, it was still too short. And if you’re wondering, I am watching the show on Starz. Yes, I am enjoying it.

But, I’m sure you know the drill by now. I can’t love anything without picking it apart. So here it is, American Gods.

The research.

As a speculative fiction writer, I sometimes discount research. I might give an article about archery a passing glance, but nothing more than that.

Obviously, Neil Gaiman didn’t feel that way. He poured so much information about the history of immigration to America, and the Gods that people brought with them, into this book that it’s amazing. I learned things about mythology reading it. I thought I was pretty well-versed in mythology already. I was wrong.

This has absolutely influenced me in writing the Roc Hunter’s books. While some work is going to need more research than others, this book made me realize that the more knowledge, the more realism you can pour into your fiction, the richer it becomes.

The Coming To America Stories

Scattered through the book, in no particular order, are stories titled “Coming To America”. They weren’t my favorite part of the book because I wanted to continue reading about Shadow and Wednesday.

But saying that this is the weakest part of the book doesn’t mean that they’re bad.

First off, they were cripplingly honest. Uncomfortably so, in some cases. They also tricked you. As you’re reading them, you’d think that they don’t really have any bearing on the main story. As it turns out, though, they really do. You just don’t realize it until you suddenly recognize someone. Or, my favorite part, you look back and realize who someone was.

This is really the brilliance of this book. See, to really understand the gravity of the book you have to have some background information. Gaiman has found a creative way to teach us about the mythology of different cultures in interesting ways. He’s showing, not telling.


I have to admit, I didn’t see a lot of what was happening in this book coming. Especially Shadow’s lineage. Looking back, the whole story makes a lot more sense when you realize that Shadow is a demigod.

Not that Gaiman ever used the word. He also never outright said that the crime Shadow was in jail for he committed for his wife Laura.

Shadow’s a conflicted person. He’s a pacifist, which I love. He saved everyone, stopped the whole war by telling the truth. He walked among gods, thinking that he was only a man, and never batted an eye. He found out that his wife was cheating on him with his best friend, and just went on loving her. Even when she showed up dead on his doorstep. He found out that Wednesday orchestrated his very birth, then walked out on him, and still didn’t seek revenge.

Shadow is an admirable character. I just don’t think he knows it.

One reveal hid another. Then another and another.

I couldn’t possibly have guessed everything that was going to happen in this book because too much happened for that to be a possibility. I never thought that the small little down that Shadow is supposed to be hiding away at would have a ghastly secret. I never thought that Wednesday would be Shadow’s father. I never thought that Shadow would need the strength of a death to save everyone.AG 2

I don’t know how realistic it is to have so many reveals that no one can keep track, but it certainly made for a fascinating read.

Seeing America from the point of view of an immigrant, writing as an American character.

I was born and raised in America. Aside from a quick trip to Canada as a child, I’ve never been out of the country. (Yes, I know it’s pitiful but traveling is expensive.)

I know what America looks like to an America. I don’t know what it looks like to someone from the outside. I’m not talking about politics. I mean the people who make up this country.

American Gods is a story that reminded me that we are, after all, a country of immigrants. I valued this. It’s a rare thing, being able to see your home from a different perspective.

Hopefully, you’re not reading this if you’ve never read American Gods. If you have read it, I’d encourage you to read it again as a writer. Pick it apart and see what you can learn from it. If you haven’t read it and missed my huge Spoiler Alert above, I’m very sorry.

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