American Gods by Neil Gaiman

A book review by Larry P. Madden dead dog comedy hour

When enough people tell you to check something out, you’d best take them up on the offer. In my case, my friend nudged me towards watching American Gods, and when I went to check it out, the kid at the video store said that I should read the book. Soon enough, the kid’s 800-page copy was in my hands and I was out of excuses to check it out. With my initial interest already piqued from what I’d heard, I plunged into this challenge.

I often credit my early reading habits to spending my 25 cents a week allowance on comic books. My mother couldn’t understand how I could spend the cost of a loaf of bread or a pack of cigarettes on comic books. This led to a reading habit that stole me away from poverty and allowed me to journey far from the shores of my home island. Soon an older friend introduced me to Asgard and Norse mythology, Greek, Roman, and others would follow. As I tasted the meat of this book, the characters rang true to my old memories. In American Gods, written by the prolific author Neil Gaiman, I was on familiar turf.

Shadow, the main attraction for this tale, is a man held in an American prison in the Midwest. As his tale unfolds, you trail along trying to find the next real answer. Don’t worry, this tale moves forward immediately and the continuing encounters and pace changes kept me glued to the pages. The momentum for Shadow is nonstop, from mundane prison life for three years to a tumultuous continuum of events and decisions. As the trail leads on, names common to all begin to surface and you realize you are on a journey with a gathering of Gods, Deities, and Heroes from around the world.

As America is the melting pot of the world, so did all these races and ethnicities bring their gods to America. Some voluntary, some forced, they arrived as did the leprechauns, sprites, fairies, and many who we never even have heard their names. The tale unfolds in Wisconsin and Illinois for the most part, with side trips to the near south, giving the story even more interest for me. The well written story takes you on short sidetracks that allow for a wider view of the journey.

As I enjoyed the book, it made me think of how all my life those stories were told and treasured by neighbors and family members. I drifted off thinking about the Creation stories I had been taught since childhood into adulthood, Adam and Eve, the Sky Woman, Bears entering a river and coming out a human couple, people crawling out of Mother Earth. This made me think how we hold our own stories, how stories carried our people for eons. Bringing forward science, agriculture, making sense of the cosmos, health care, and of course our varied but treasured cultures. I remember being told the old logging camp stories by Uncle Tommie Rind, the Great Lakes shipwrecks from my father, Jerry, the tales at Keshena Falls with my mother, Vera.

Stories are vital to family, stories are vital to culture, stories may be all life is about if quantum science is what I am imagining. So don’t let the thickness of American Gods’ spine hold you back—read it, enjoy it, and use it to tell your own stories. Everyone around the world has ancient stories. Share them, because they contain secrets that are unlocked by their telling.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.