Neil Geiman’s American Gods is an engulfing story that establishes a connection between humanity and supernatural elements. It is a story of a man, Shadow, who learns of his wife’s death prior to his release from prison. After his release, he meets an oddly looking old man called Mr. Wednesday. Their interaction marks the beginning of a series of events which guide the reader into a world of mythology, betrayal, disguise, human frailty, among other thematic impressions.
Critically, American Gods invokes the reader to delve deep into a self-reflective journey with the intent of placing oneself within the larger context of the society. Although implicit, Geiman uses supernatural figures to implore various energies inherent in human beings and which are, in some cases, inhibited. For instance, when giving instructions about his new job, Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow, “In an emergency, but only in an emergency, you hurt people who need to be hurt”. Such a statement is not only provocative, but also suggestive about the capacity for human beings to express their anarchic nature when in the face of adversity.
For a conservative reader, American Gods might not be as appealing due to its detachment from reality. In particular, one might perceive it as a bulwark against a clearer understanding of the nature of humanity. There are various instances that such as the use of magic to raise the dead. Shadow’s dead wife, Laura, suddenly emerges and is presented as having defeated death. From a Christian perspective, that might be interpreted as an attempt to question the foundation of religion. Such an angle is likely to conjure stringent reaction from Christian hopefuls who would define Geiman’s methodological approach as being blasphemous.
Notwithstanding, the book contains various elements that project its rather commanding and engaging effect on the reader. The experiences of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday are characterized by conflict, strange occurrences, revelation, alongside unimaginable suspense that is creatively woven into events as they unravel. After learning of his wife’s return from the dead, Shadow does not appear stunned. Mr. Wednesday questions Shadow’s numb demeanor. The following is a conversation that ensues between the two:
Mr. Wednesday: Why don’t you argue? Why don’t you exclaim that it’s all impossible?
Shadow: Because you are not paying me to ask questions. Anyway, nothing’s really surprised me since Laura.
The exchange reveals Mr. Wednesday’s concern regarding Shadow’s calm attitude toward the mystical happenings that seem to defy the laws of nature such as death. Quite interestingly, Geiman projects Shadow’s character as that of a man who finds value in the abstraction of existence. Virtues such as fidelity in marriage seem more appealing to Shadow than the sudden resurgence of his dead wife. He says, “Since I learned she [Laura] was screwing Robbie. That one hurt. Everything else just sits on the surface”. For Shadow, the abstraction of fidelity seems more important than the “tangibility” of life, as seen in the case of Laura’s physical appearance even after having died from an accident.
As the story progresses, it is revealed that Mr. Wednesday is Shadow’s father and that his real name is Woden, the Norse God Odin. Apart from Odin, there are other gods such as Mr. Stone and Mr. Wood. There appears to be a battle between the gods as the henchmen of the two new gods kidnap Shadow. With their intent unclear, Shadow is rescued by the ghost of his dead wife Laura. These events mark a sudden shift in Geiman’s attempt to illuminate the role of guilt in defining human relations. Laura’s heroism can be interpreted as a strategic move to redeem herself from the shame of infidelity.
At first, it might seem like American Gods is a compilation of absentee fathers, the inheritance of deviant behavior in humanity, the intricate nature of marriage, alongside the dominance of dependence through manipulative human relationships. A reader is taken through various kinds of relations such as that between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, with his wife Laura, and other characters who are introduced later on. Nevertheless, Geiman makes a fair attempt to dive into the mind of an ordinary man looking to find his purpose in life. Shadow’s reluctant acceptance to work for Mr. Wednesday is clear indication of an internal conflict to establish a path for himself independently.
In the larger context, the book somewhat projects an image of the American society. In a sense, America’s rich diverse ethnicity is creatively presented in the book in the form of different gods trying to establish control. A reader can perceive the gods as the different cultures and ethnic groups that make up the country’s social fabric. However, differences projected through variations in cultural and traditional beliefs tend to establish a divide whose intensity leads to conflict.
In summary, Geiman’s American Gods is likely to appeal to readers who are open to taking a journey through a mystical world where human relationships are commodified. Humanity’s price for survival is subjection to a higher authority as is evident with Shadow’s relationship with Mr. Wednesday. The book is more like a rollercoaster which takes a reader through a provoking but assuring journey of self-discovery as evidenced in Shadow. Despite the existence of horror, Geiman is able to establish the existence of hope, fun alongside a sense of wonder which, bound together, creates a joyful and riveting experience for the avid reader.