American Gods

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Overview

A master of inventive fiction, Neil Gaiman delves into the murky depths where reality and imagination meet. Now in American Gods, he works his literary magic to extraordinary results.

Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday—a beguiling stranger who seems to know everything about him. A trickster and rogue, Mr. ...

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Overview

A master of inventive fiction, Neil Gaiman delves into the murky depths where reality and imagination meet. Now in American Gods, he works his literary magic to extraordinary results.

Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday—a beguiling stranger who seems to know everything about him. A trickster and rogue, Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With nowhere left to go, Shadow accepts, and soon learns that his role in Mr. Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous and dark than he could have ever imagined. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought—and the prize is the very soul of America.

Winner of the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2002 Nebula Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the introduction to his 1973 collection, Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison stated that "when belief in a god dies, the god dies," yielding, inevitably, to deities who reflect the character and obsessions of their respective eras. Twenty-eight years later, Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Neverwhere, the Sandman series) has co-opted this notion, using it as the basis for his ambitious, altogether brilliant new novel, American Gods.

Gaiman's hero is a troubled ex-convict named, appropriately, Shadow. When we first meet him, Shadow is serving a three-year sentence for aggravated assault. Just days before his parole takes effect, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a grotesque automobile accident. Alone and adrift, Shadow signs on as driver and bodyguard for an enigmatic grifter who calls himself, simply, Wednesday.

Wednesday, we learn, is a diminished, Americanized incarnation of the Norse god Odin. He is one of a vast pantheon of transplanted gods carried to the New World in the minds and hearts of the endless waves of immigrants. Like most of his fellow gods, Odin/Wednesday has been largely forgotten, replaced by the gods of television, technology, and other icons of a changing world. With Shadow's assistance, Wednesday takes steps to organize these displaced deities, to lead them in a war to the death with the gods of the new Millennium.

American Gods tells the story of that war, and of the hidden personal agendas that lie beneath it. It also tells the story of Shadow's discovery -- and gradual reclamation -- of his own divided soul. Part road novel, part bildungsroman, part revisionist mythology, the narrative ranges across the American landscape, from the magical roadside attraction called The House on the Rock to a Wisconsin town whose picture-perfect surface conceals an ancient, grisly secret. It also takes behind the scenes of the mundane, everyday world, and introduces a credible gallery of gods, demons, and ordinary humans, some of them living, some dead.

Like all such extravagant epics, American Gods is -- as Gaiman clearly acknowledges -- a vast, multi-colored metaphor that has much to say about our ongoing need for meaning and belief and about the astonishing creative power of the human imagination. The result is an elegant, important novel that illuminates our world -- and the various worlds that surround it -- with wit, style, and sympathetic intelligence, and stands as one of the benchmark achievements in a distinguished, constantly evolving career. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A fascinating tale . . . by turns thoughtful, hilarious, disturbing, uplifting, horrifying and enjoyable -- and sometimes all at once, in a curious sort of way. Those who are familiar with Gaiman’s earlier work will find a satisfying yarn by a familiar master storyteller. Those who are meeting him for the first time may be surprised at just how good he is.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Saying Neil Gaiman is a writer is like saying Da Vinci dabbled in the arts.
Science Fiction Weekly
Nothing short of an odyssey . . . Gaiman shows readers that wisdom can be found in all kinds of tales.
Salon.com
A crackerjack suspense yarn . . . juicily original . . . Wagnerian noir.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
. . . By turns thoughtful, hilarious, disturbing, uplifting, horrifying and enjoyable — and sometimes all at once.
New York Post
Neil Gaiman enters Stephen King territory . . . with American Gods.
Michael Dirda
Mystery, satire, sex, horror, poetic prose — American Gods uses all these to keep the reader turning the pages.
The Washington Post
From The Critics
With his latest novel, Gaiman has created an engrossing mythology already begging for new installments. In this fiercely imagined tale, gods from Norse and Native American folklore are fallen beings wandering the backwaters of America; made to exist by the faith of followers, they are quickly being replaced by modern idols. Shadow, the protagonist of this fantastical book, is a just-released convict who has been informed that his wife was killed in a car accident. On the way back to his hometown, he falls in with a mysterious man by the name of Wednesday, only to discover that Wednesday is not mortal. Distraught over his wife's death, Shadow feels he doesn't have much to lose when Wednesday offers to hire him, as a henchman of sorts, to help out in a fast-approaching war between the gods of ancient folklore and the gods of technology. With time running out, Shadow is sent bouncing across the Midwest through a series of confrontations during the inexorable buildup to the epic battle of the gods.
—Chris Barsanti

VOYA
Shadow Moon describes his dilemma as being like one of those hidden picture puzzles. "Can you find the hidden Indians? At first... you only see waterfalls and rocks, then you see that shadow is an Indian." This description also aptly summarizes the book. Like the puzzle picture, behind every rock is an Indian. Every word in this amazing book is loaded with double meaning, every line of the story has a purpose, and each character is more than he or she seems. Shadow, released early from prison after the death of his wife in a car crash, is recruited by Mr. Wednesday, really the god Odin now making a living as a con man. There are countless gods who came to America with immigrants but now have been forgotten. New American gods—TV, credit cards, and the Internet—have declared war on the old ones. Wednesday and Shadow crisscross the nation rounding up an army for the coming battle. They visit places of power, which in America turn out to be roadside attractions such as the House on the Rock, and they meet an eclectic pantheon of gods, leprechauns, deities, and spirits. Gaiman, author of many books including Neverwhere (Avon, 1997) and the Sandman graphic novels, creates a plot that twists and turns and tricks the reader into pursuing wrong paths. Filled with sly, dark humor and vivid personalities, the intricate story lines come together to reveal a fascinating portrait of America's soul. Recommend this book to mature teens because of complex plotting and sexual content. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Morrow, 480p, $26. Ages 15 to Adult.Reviewer: Lynne Rutan SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
Library Journal
Shadow Moon, recently released from prison and dealing with his wife's death, accepts a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. Together they travel across America gathering up Mr. Wednesday's creepy friends. Soon Shadow discovers this road trip involves the upcoming epic battle between the old gods of the immigrants and today's new gods credit cards, TV, and the Internet. He also experiences repeat visits from the reanimated corpse of his dead wife, Laura. Shadow's personal tale and the details of American small-town life are well developed compared with the not-well-defined plot. The focus shifts from the gods' Armageddon to Shadow's life, to subplots about secondary characters. The book has wit but is too busy and not very engaging and includes some graphic language, sex, and disturbing events. George Guidall's clear, well-articulated narration contributes to a positive listening experience. Fans will no doubt enjoy the subject matter and the mythic scope. Denise A. Garofalo, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ex-convict is the wandering knight-errant who traverses the wasteland of Middle America, in this ambitious, gloriously funny, and oddly heartwarming latest from the popular fantasist (Stardust, 1999, etc.). Released from prison after serving a three-year term, Shadow is immediately rocked by the news that his beloved wife Laura has been killed in an automobile accident. While en route to Indiana for her funeral, Shadow meets an eccentric businessman who calls himself Wednesday (a dead giveaway if you're up to speed on your Norse mythology), and passively accepts the latter's offer of an imprecisely defined job. The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore—or indeed anywhere on Earth he recognizes. In dreams, he's visited by a grotesque figure with the head of a buffalo and the voice of a prophet—as well as by Laura's rather alarmingly corporeal ghost. Gaiman layers in a horde of other stories whose relationships to Shadow's adventures are only gradually made clear, while putting his sturdy protagonist through a succession of tests that echo those of Arthurian hero Sir Gawain bound by honor to surrender his life to the malevolent Green Knight, Orpheus braving the terrors of Hades to find and rescue the woman he loves, and numerous other archetypal figures out of folklore and legend. Only an ogre would reveal much more about this big novel's agreeably intricate plot. Suffice it to say that this is the book that answers the question: When people emigrate to America, what happens to the gods they leave behind? A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of allcultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman. Author tour
Jane Lindskold
"American Gods is like a fast run downhill through a maze — both exhilarating and twisted."
of Penn & Teller Teller
American Gods is sexy, thrilling, dark, funny and poetic."
George R. R. Martin
“Original, engrossing, and endlessly inventive; a picaresque journey across America where the travelers are even stranger than the roadside attractions.”
Patrick Rothfuss
“Gaiman understands the shape of stories.”
of Penn & Teller - Teller
American Gods is sexy, thrilling, dark, funny and poetic."
George R.R. Martin
"Original, engrossing, and endlessly inventive; a picaresque journey across America where the travelers are even stranger than the roadside attractions."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380789030
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 28,085
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Gaiman wrote the award-winning graphic novel series The Sandman, and with Terry Pratchett, the award-winning novel Good Omens. His first book for children, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, illustrated by Dave McKean, hasn't yet won any awards, but was one of Newsweek's Best Children's Books of 1997. Angels & Visitations, a small press story collection, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and won the International Horror Critics Guild Award for Best Collection, despite not having any horror in it. Well, hardly any.

Born in England, he now makes his home in America, in a big dark house of uncertain location where he grows exotic pumpkins and accumulates computers and cats. He is currently at work turning his first novel Neverwhere into a film for Jim Henson films.

Biography

Neil Gaiman thought he wrote comic books. But a newspaper editor, of course, set him straight.

Back when he was riding the diabolical headwinds of his popular series of graphic novels, The Sandman, the author attended a party where he introduced himself as a comic-book writer to a newspaper's literary editor. But when the editor quickly realized who this actually was -- and the glaze melted from his eyes -- he offered Gaiman a correction tinged with astonishment: "My God, man, you don't write comics, you write graphic novels." Relating the story to theLos Angeles Times in 1995, Gaiman said, "I suddenly felt like someone who had been informed that she wasn't a hooker, that in fact she was a lady of the evening."

Gaiman's done much more, of course, than simply write graphic novels, having coauthored, with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, a comic novel about the Apocalypse; adapted into hardcover the BBC miniseries Neverwhere about the dark underworld beneath the streets of London; and, inspired by his young daughter, put a horrifying spin on C.S. Lewis' wardrobe doors for Coraline, a children's book about a passageway into a magical, yet malevolent, land.

But it is The Sandman that is Gaiman's magnum opus.

Though he had told a career counselor in high school that he wanted to pen comic books, he had a career as a freelance journalist before his first graphic novel, Violent Cases, was published in England in 1987. DC Comics discovered him and The Sandman was born. Or reborn, actually. The comic debuted back in 1939 with a regular-Joe crime fighter in the lead. But in Gaiman's hands the tale had a more otherworldly spin, slowing introducing readers to the seven siblings Endless: Dream, Death, Desire, Destiny, Destruction, Despair and Delirium (once Delight). They all have their roles in shaping the fates of man. In fact, when Death was imprisoned for decades, the results were devastating. Richard Nixon reached The White House and Michael Jackson the Billboard charts.

Direction from newspaper editors notwithstanding, to Gaiman, these stories are still comic books. The man who shuttled back and forth between comics and classics in his formative years and can pepper his writing with references to Norse mythology as well as the vaudevillian rock group Queen, never cottoned to such highbrow/lowbrow distinctions. Comparing notes on a yachting excursion with members of the Irish rock band U2, the writer who looks like a rock star and Delirium and the rock stars who gave themselves comic-worthy names such as Bono and The Edge came to a realization: Whether the medium is pop music or comic books, not being taken seriously can be a plus. "It's safer to be in the gutter," he told The Washington Post in 1995.

In 1995, Gaiman brought The Sandman to a close and began spending more time on his nongraphic fiction, including a couple of short-story collections. A few years later he released Stardust, an adult fairy tale that has young Tristan Thorn searching for a fallen star to woo the lovely but cold Victoria Forester. In 2001, he placed an ex-con named Shadow in the middle of a war between the ancient and modern dieties in American Gods. Coming in October 2002 is another departure: an audio recording of Two Plays for Voices, which stars Bebe Neuwirth as a wise queen doing battle with a bloodthirsty child and Brian Dennehy as the Angel of Vengeance investigating the first crime in history in heaven's City of Angels.

Gaiman need not worry about defining his artistic relevance, since so many other seem to do it for him. Stephen King, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison are among those who have contributed introductions to his works. William Gibson, the man who coined the term "cyberspace," called him a "a writer of rare perception and endless imagination" as well as "an American treasure." (Even though he's, technically, a British treasure transplanted to the American Midwest.) Even Norman Mailer has weighed in: "Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time."

The gushiest praise, however, may come from Frank McConnell, who barely contained himself in the pages of the political and artistic journal Commonweal. Saying Gaiman "may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English," McConnell crowned Sandman as the most important act of fiction of the day. "And that, not just because of the brilliance and intricacy of its storytelling -- and I know few stories, outside the best of Joyce, Faulkner, and Pynchon, that are more intricate," he wrote in October 1995, " but also because it tells its wonderful and humanizing tale in a medium, comic books, still largely considered demimonde by the tenured zombies of the academic establishment."

"If Sandman is a 'comic,'" he concluded, "then The Magic Flute is a 'musical' and A Midsummer Night's Dream is a skit. Read the damn thing: it's important."

Good To Know

Some fascinating factoids from our interview with Gaiman:

"One of the most enjoyable bits of writing Sandman was getting authors whose work I love to write the introductions for the collected graphic novels -- people like Steve Erickson, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Mikal Gilmore, and Samuel R. Delany."

"I have a big old Addams Family house, with -- in the summertime -- a vegetable garden, and I love growing exotic pumpkins. As a boy in England I used to dream about Ray Bradbury Hallowe'ens, and am thrilled that I get them these days. Unless I'm on the road signing people's books, of course."

"According to my daughters, my most irritating habit is asking for cups of tea."

"I love radio -- and love the availability of things like the Jack Benny radio shows in MP3 format. I'm addicted to BBC radio 7, and keep buying boxed CD sets of old UK radio programs, things like Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. Every now and again I'll write a radio play."

"I love thunderstorms, old houses, and dreams."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 10, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Portchester, England
    1. Education:
      Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The boundaries of our country, sir? Why sir, on the north we arebounded by the Aurora Borealis, on the east we are bounded by therising sun, on the south we are bounded by the procession of theEquinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgment.
-- The American Joe Miller's Jest Book

Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

The best thing – in Shadow's opinion, perhaps the only good thing – about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he'd plunged as low as he could plunge and he'd hit bottom. He didn't worry that the man was going to get hurt, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

It did not matter, Shadow decided, if you had done what you had been convicted of or not. In his experience everyone he met in prison was aggrieved about something: there was always something the authorities had got wrong, something they said you did when you didn't – or you didn't do quite like they said you did. What was important was that they had gotten you.

He had noticed it in the first few days, when everything, from the slang to the bad food, was new. Despite the misery and the titter skin-crawling horror of incarceration, he was breathing relief.

Shadow tried not to talk too much. Somewhere around the middle of year two he mentioned his theory to Low Key Lyesmith, hiscellmate.

Low Key, who was a grifter from Minnesota, smiled his scarred smile. "Yeah," he said. "That's true. It's even better when you've been sentenced to death. That's when you remember the jokes about the guys who kicked their boots off as the noose flipped around their necks, because their friends always told them they'd die with their boots on."

"Is that a joke?" asked Shadow.

"Damn right. Gallows humor. Best kind there is."

"When did they last hang a man in this state?" asked Shadow.

"How the hell should I know?" Lyesmith kept his orange-blond hair pretty much shaved. You could see the lines of his skull. "Tell you what, though. This country started going to bell when they stopped hanging folks. No gallows dirt. No gallows deals."

Shadow shrugged. He could see nothing romantic in a death sentence.

If you didn't have a death sentence, he decided, then prison was, at best, only a temporary reprieve from life, for two reasons. First, life creeps back into prison. There are always places to go further down. Life goes on. And second, if you just hang in there, someday they're going to have to let you out.

In the beginning it was too far away for Shadow to focus on. Then it became a distant beam of hope, and he learned how to tell himself "this too shall pass" when the prison shit went down, as prison shit always did. One day the magic door would open and he'd walk through it. So he marked off the days on his Songbirds of North America calendar, which was the only calendar they sold in the prison commissary, and the sun went down and he didn't see it and the sun came up and he didn't see it. He practiced coin tricks from a book lie found in the wasteland of the prison library; and lie worked out; and he made lists in his head of what he'd do when he got out of prison.

Shadow's lists got shorter and shorter. After two years he had it down to three things.

First, he was going to take a bath. A real, long, serious soak, in a tub with bubbles. Maybe read the paper, maybe not. Some days he thought one way, some days the other.

Second he was going to towel himself off, put on a robe. Maybe slippers. He liked the idea of slippers. If he smoked he would be smoking a pipe about now, but he didn't smoke. He would pick up his wife in his arms ("Puppy," she would squeal in mock horror and real delight, "what are you doing?"). He would carry her into the bedroom, and close the door. They'd call out for pizzas if they got hungry.

Third, after he and Laura had come out of the bedroom, maybe a couple of days later, he was going to keep his head down and stay out of trouble for the rest of his life.

"And then you'll be happy?" asked Low Key Lyesmith. That day they were working in the prison shop, assembling bird feeders, which was barely more interesting than stamping out license plates.

"Call no man happy," said Shadow, "until he is dead."

"Herodotus," said Low Key. "Hey. You're learning."

"Who the fuck's Herodotus?" asked the Iceman, slotting together the sides of a bird feeder and passing it to Shadow, who bolted and screwed it tight.

"Dead Greek," said Shadow.

"My last girlfriend was Greek," said the Iceman. "The shit her family ate. You would not believe. Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that."

The Iceman was the same size and shape as a Coke machine, with blue eyes and hair so blond it was almost white. He had beaten the crap out of some guy who had made the mistake of copping a feel off his girlfriend in the bar where she danced and the Iceman bounced. The guy's friends had called the police, who arrested the Iceman and ran a check on him which revealed that the Iceman had walked from a work-release program...

American Gods. Copyright © by Neil Gaiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

American Gods
A Novel

Chapter One

The boundaries of our country, sir? Why sir, on the north we arebounded by the Aurora Borealis, on the east we are bounded by therising sun, on the south we are bounded by the procession of theEquinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgment.
-- The American Joe Miller's Jest Book

Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

The best thing – in Shadow's opinion, perhaps the only good thing – about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he'd plunged as low as he could plunge and he'd hit bottom. He didn't worry that the man was going to get hurt, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

It did not matter, Shadow decided, if you had done what you had been convicted of or not. In his experience everyone he met in prison was aggrieved about something: there was always something the authorities had got wrong, something they said you did when you didn't – or you didn't do quite like they said you did. What was important was that they had gotten you.

He had noticed it in the first few days, when everything, from the slang to the bad food, was new. Despite the misery and the titter skin-crawling horror of incarceration, he was breathing relief.

Shadow tried not to talk too much. Somewhere around the middle of year two he mentioned his theory to Low Key Lyesmith, his cellmate.

Low Key, who was a grifter from Minnesota, smiled his scarred smile. "Yeah," he said. "That's true. It's even better when you've been sentenced to death. That's when you remember the jokes about the guys who kicked their boots off as the noose flipped around their necks, because their friends always told them they'd die with their boots on."

"Is that a joke?" asked Shadow.

"Damn right. Gallows humor. Best kind there is."

"When did they last hang a man in this state?" asked Shadow.

"How the hell should I know?" Lyesmith kept his orange-blond hair pretty much shaved. You could see the lines of his skull. "Tell you what, though. This country started going to bell when they stopped hanging folks. No gallows dirt. No gallows deals."

Shadow shrugged. He could see nothing romantic in a death sentence.

If you didn't have a death sentence, he decided, then prison was, at best, only a temporary reprieve from life, for two reasons. First, life creeps back into prison. There are always places to go further down. Life goes on. And second, if you just hang in there, someday they're going to have to let you out.

In the beginning it was too far away for Shadow to focus on. Then it became a distant beam of hope, and he learned how to tell himself "this too shall pass" when the prison shit went down, as prison shit always did. One day the magic door would open and he'd walk through it. So he marked off the days on his Songbirds of North America calendar, which was the only calendar they sold in the prison commissary, and the sun went down and he didn't see it and the sun came up and he didn't see it. He practiced coin tricks from a book lie found in the wasteland of the prison library; and lie worked out; and he made lists in his head of what he'd do when he got out of prison.

Shadow's lists got shorter and shorter. After two years he had it down to three things.

First, he was going to take a bath. A real, long, serious soak, in a tub with bubbles. Maybe read the paper, maybe not. Some days he thought one way, some days the other.

Second he was going to towel himself off, put on a robe. Maybe slippers. He liked the idea of slippers. If he smoked he would be smoking a pipe about now, but he didn't smoke. He would pick up his wife in his arms ("Puppy," she would squeal in mock horror and real delight, "what are you doing?"). He would carry her into the bedroom, and close the door. They'd call out for pizzas if they got hungry.

Third, after he and Laura had come out of the bedroom, maybe a couple of days later, he was going to keep his head down and stay out of trouble for the rest of his life.

"And then you'll be happy?" asked Low Key Lyesmith. That day they were working in the prison shop, assembling bird feeders, which was barely more interesting than stamping out license plates.

"Call no man happy," said Shadow, "until he is dead."

"Herodotus," said Low Key. "Hey. You're learning."

"Who the fuck's Herodotus?" asked the Iceman, slotting together the sides of a bird feeder and passing it to Shadow, who bolted and screwed it tight.

"Dead Greek," said Shadow.

"My last girlfriend was Greek," said the Iceman. "The shit her family ate. You would not believe. Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that."

The Iceman was the same size and shape as a Coke machine, with blue eyes and hair so blond it was almost white. He had beaten the crap out of some guy who had made the mistake of copping a feel off his girlfriend in the bar where she danced and the Iceman bounced. The guy's friends had called the police, who arrested the Iceman and ran a check on him which revealed that the Iceman had walked from a work-release program...

American Gods
A Novel
. Copyright © by Neil Gaiman . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Neil Gaiman

Barnes & Noble.com: American Gods is far and away the most ambitious and wide-ranging of your novel-length narratives. Was this sense of near epic scope implicit in your original conception of the book, or did your story, like Tolkien's, grow in the telling?

Neil Gaiman: I always knew it was going to be a big book -- I don't think I really knew just how big until it became apparent that I was already 100,000 words into the book and I was only half way through the story. It took me twice as long to write as I had expected and planned.

It certainly grew in the telling; and to be honest, I suspect that if someone had said "Here, take another year on it," it would have been half as long again. America's such a big country that trying to squeeze even a small bit of it into a book demands a big book.

B&N.com: One of the most obvious literary influences present in American Gods is, it seems to me, Harlan Ellison's Deathbird Stories. How important was this influence? Has Ellison's work in general played a significant role in your own artistic development?

NG: I think that's true, although it's not something I saw until I had finished the first draft of American Gods. Harlan was certainly an influence, although just as important were James Branch Cabell's gods in Something About Eve, who existed because they were believed in and, when they were no longer believed in, walked down the road to yesteryear, and Roger Zelazny's people-as-gods in Lord of Light and gods-as-people in Creatures of Light and Darkness. All of the books and authors I read as a boy.

Harlan was certainly the first time, as a reader, I became aware of a writer as a person through the work. There's a white-hot fierceness to the best of Ellison that I would love to have in my own work. I was thrilled when he broke his rule about not giving blurbs to give American Gods an (unsolicited) blurb...

Another influence, of course, in many ways, was The Sandman.

B&N.com: American Gods is, in part, a road novel in the classic tradition, a novel that takes a close, even intimate look at the American landscape. To what extent does the novel represent your attempt to assess and come to terms with your adopted country?

NG: Pretty much 100% -- I'd been writing about America for years before I came to live here, albeit an America constructed out of films and movies and other books. But living here made me reassess everything I had seen -- and every way I had seen the media portray America. I thought it would be a good thing to try and put the America I saw down on paper.

B&N.com: Much of your creative energy has, in recent years, gone into the creation of full-length novels. Has novel writing become your preferred form of expression, or are you equally interested in exploring a variety of forms?

NG: In many ways right now, writing novels is the next form I'm trying to master. I felt like I got pretty good at comics, and I'm fairly comfortable with my ability to write short stories. American Gods is the first novel I've written that I felt I was beginninng to show any sign of talent at the medium.

It's also, of course, the first original solo novel I've done. Neverwhere and Good Omens and Stardust were either collaborative or began life in other media.

I'm no less intersted or active in other forms though.

B&N.com: You developed an enormous, even fanatical following with the Sandman series of graphic novels. Do you have the sense that this audience has followed you into your recent forays into prose fiction (Neverwhere, Stardust, Smoke and Mirrors, etc.)?

NG: It's hard to tell -- Sandman sold in astounding quantities, and while the novels also sell astonishingly well, it seems to me like half of the readers were Sandman readers, while half of them had no idea who or what I was and just picked up the books because they liked the look of the covers or read a good review.

I suspect that also Neverwhere and Stardust (while popular, award-winning, and bestselling) wouldn't have given Sandman readers the same buzz they got from Sandman -- they were an adventure novel and a fairy tale respectively. American Gods has the same kind of meat that Sandman did, I think.

B&N.com: Are you still interested in staying involved in the comics industry, either through future Sandman stories or through something altogether new?

NG: Yes.

B&N.com: Good Omens, your comic collaboration with Terry Pratchett, remains one of your most popular creations. Do you have anything to report either on the rumored sequel or on the possibility of a film adaptation?

NG: Terry Gilliam is signed to direct it and has just written the first draft of a script. I'm excited.

B&N.com: Speaking of film adaptations, is it true that you'll be writing and directing an original screenplay in the near future? Can you tell us anything about this project?

NG: I'm working on adapting Death: The High Cost of Living into film form for Warner Brothers. Let's see what happens.

B&N.com: With American Gods, which must have been an enormous effort, now behind you, do you have any immediate plans for a new, novel-length project, or are you planning to let the tank fill back up for a while?

NG: I think it's going to be short projects for a little while. And then I'll want to take refuge in a longer project.

B&N.com: You once remarked that you were lucky in that you had stories to tell that a good many people clearly wanted to hear. Would you care to single out some good writers who have been slightly less fortunate, writers who deserve -- but have not yet received -- a larger share of the public's attention?

NG: Authors whose work I've read an enjoyed in the last few weeks who are in that camp would be Jonathan Carroll; Martin Millar; M. John Harrison; John M. Ford... and too many others to list.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Shadow Moon spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife, Laura, and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But just a few days before his release, he learns that Laura has been fatally injured in a car accident.

On the plane ride home to the funeral, a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday makes Shadow an offer he can't refuse. But Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road odyssey and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter -- all of whom seem to know a great deal about Shadow's private life.

Shadow will discover that everyone in Mr. Wednesday's world harbors secrets, that the living and the dead are all around him, and that nothing is what it appears. As a storm of epic proportions threatens to break all around them, Shadow and Wednesday get swept up in a conflict as old as humanity itself; for beneath the placid surface of everyday life, a pitched battle is being fought over America's soul.

As unsettling as it is exhilarating, American Gods is a dark and kaleidoscopic journey into an America at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. Magnificently told, this work of literary magic will haunt the reader far beyond the final page.

Discussion Questions

  1. Where is Shadow at the beginning of American Gods? Where is he at the end? Of the many characters he encounters along the way, which did you find mostmemorable? What did you make of Shadow's obsession with coin tricks? How did you interpret his determination to participate in the vigil for Wednesday?

  2. How does Laura die? Were you surprised by what happens at her funeral? How does she come to Shadow's aid? What explains the phenomenon of her persistence in the world of the living? How does Shadow release her from her state of limbo?

  3. How would you describe Wednesday? How does he interact with Shadow at the start of the book? Did you find any of his grifter schemes especially entertaining? What is his connection to Odin? By the end of American Gods, what relationship between Wednesday and Shadow is revealed?

  4. Who is Czernobog? How would you describe him? What is his relationship with the three Zoryas? What did you make of this group? What role did they play in Shadow's experiences?

  5. "There are new gods growing in America ... gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon." How do you interpret this remark? Do you think there's any element of truth to it?

  6. How would you describe Shadow's sojourn in Lakeside, Wisconsin? How do Hinzelmann, Chad Mulligan, Marge Olsen, and Missy Gunther treat their mysterious new neighbor?

  7. Who is Alison McGovern and how does Shadow come to know her? What clue enables Shadow to determine her killer? What did you think of the outcome of this mystery?

  8. "Would you believe that all of the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?" Shadow asks this question of Samantha Black Crow. Do you find this premise compelling? Did any elements of the plot of American Gods push this idea in interesting directions?

About the author

Neil Gaiman is the critically acclaimed author of the novels American Gods (winner of the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novel), Stardust (winner of the American Library Association's Alex Award), and the award-winning Sandman series of graphic novels, as well as Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short fiction, and Coraline (winner of the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella), a tale for readers of all ages. His first book for children, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, illustrated by Dave McKean, was one of Newsweek's Best Children's Books of 1997. In 2003, Gaiman and McKean teamed up again to produce another illustrated children's book, The Wolves in the Walls. His small press story collection, Angels & Visitations, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and won the International Horror Critics Guild Award for Best Collection. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in America.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 846 )
Rating Distribution

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(505)

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(72)

2 Star

(38)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 851 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    As I pray to the God of the Internet...

    This is one of those books that I simply COULD NOT put down. It's a great fantasy story as well as a wake up call to pay attention to everything around us. Gaiman fans will LOVE it. Also, read the sequel, Anansi Boys.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2005

    Waste of time!

    I don't know if I have ever reviewed a book on here before or not, but I was so disappointed with this one I had to give my 2 cents. This book took me FOREVER to read! If it wasn't for the fact that I owned it, I would have thrown in the towel long before I finally got through it. Everyone hates it when they read a book that is extremely easy to put down and this is one of those. There were so many parts that I thought to myself that they would surely get tied together with the main story by the end....but no! This book was completely pointless, and although I like to own most/all of the books I read, I think this one may make its way to a garage sale or used book store becauseI wouldn't suggest it to anyone or ever read it again. The length wasn't completely overwhelming, but it was a long enough book that it made it all the more irritating at it's lack of point.....and for as long as it took me to read it it might as well have been 1,000 pages. And when the book finally reaches some sort of climax, it brushes over the events of some big battle instead of actually going over what happened....all build up and zero payoff!

    13 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    Not At All What I Expected

    I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of Neverworld, which I adored. This book was a bit too graphic for me, not leaving enough to the imagination, and going too much for shock value. I bought it at a book sale, didn't finish it, and plan on donating it to the next book sale.

    12 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Ugh!

    This book kept me hoping, as I turned each page, that something understandable was going to happen. Neil Gaiman had such a wonderful idea for this novel, but he never quite made it work. I struggled to figure out who these illusive "American Gods" were. Everything was too ambiguous and unsatisfying. I actually can't even believe I finished it. This is a book that will be donated to the library or Salvation Army.

    11 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Phenomenal, Worth Every Bit of Praise

    From the first page, Neil Gaiman's character Shadow connects with the reader in a way that few books manage in several thousand words. The reader wonders why he is in jail, and why there is a storm coming. The plot quickly takes several surprising and dramatic turns, which serve to cement a firm hook in the reader that will last for the next 600 pages. Additionally, American God's has such a tangible setting. The words quickly form concrete images in the readers mind, which enables an amazing depth of immersion. Also, the plot is so carefully crafted that not a scene is wasted. When you read this book, you need to pay attention to everything that happens, because it will all be essential by the end of the book. Finally, the conflicts in this book are so well-seated in the American conciousness that it is easy for the reader to become heavily invested in the outcome. This is a book that will stay with you for weeks after you finish it, and it will affect everything that you read from here into the future.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2009

    Interesting idea...not executed well...

    I got this book because it seemed like a very interesting idea for a novel and it had great reviews. I'm 2/3 of the way through the book and have completely lost interest in the novel. It seemed to start with a strong plot, but it seemed to slowly have fizzled out. I feel like there is no aim and it has left me wondering what the point of this story is. I think a lot of what i have read could have been left out. There are little stories at the end of almost every chapter, and i fail to see how those tie in to the actual plot of the book (although i can see how they fit the theme of the book). I was hoping things would start to tie together, but it doesnt seem to be happening, and i'm afraid i just cant finish this book. Its very rare for me to not finish a book...but it just seems to be going nowhere. The plot is rather weak, the characters get dull and dry, and you feel completely unattached to the story.

    10 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    Difficult to read, but artstically crafted

    Having read previous reviews of this book, I have to both agree and disagree with most of them. The novel is difficult to read on two levels. First, it is extremely graphic at times. It has several explicit sex scenes and lots of horrific violence. Second, it relies on a fragmented, piecemeal narrative that requires close concentration in order for the reader to "get" all of the interconnections. However, the novel is also very well crafted and makes several meaningful arguments about humanity and morality. Moreover, Shadow, the main character, is very compelling and likable. Due to the conflicting nature of my reactions to this novel, I found myself on the verge of putting it down several times, but in the end I was glad that I saw it through. The novel's depth and complexity overcame it's tendency to dwell on the brutal and grotesque elements of human nature.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2011

    Steeped in Sexual Intimacy

    The interesting premise of finding old gods in new lands is marred and scarred by the relentless description of sexual acts. Body parts are highlighted in careful detail. We were crazy about Gaiman's writing (Neverwhere, Coraline, Graveyard Book). We quit this one about 1/3 the way in, so disappointed.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman

    Recommended for: everyone from teen and up

    Highly Recommended!

    Not only is this a Neil Gaiman novel, but it involved mythological beings therefore I was eager to read it, but afraid to be disappointed. However, Neil Gaiman surpassed my expectations by not succumbing to his normal style of writing, and immersing into a narrative about the main character without betraying his private personality. He also doesn't waste time explaining who any of the supernatural characters are and it is not to be missed; you either know them or you don't. Neil Gaiman takes us on a road trip through midwest America and humanizes these gods, unraveling a story within stories which captures your interest as you delve more into the book. I don't want to spoil the fun of discovering the characters and the plots, so all I will say is, read it! It is worth it!

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2009

    Lost

    I was a little lost in this book. Its a kind of Stephen King meets "Twin Peaks" meets "the golden bough". I really wanted to like this but it seemed to meander about with so many characters that sounded the same and talked in the glib hardboiled King way that I could not distinguish them all the time or remember where we met them the first time. However Shadow was an interesting character and the slapstick of his Herbert West-like wife was good. There was some "page-turning" interest in parts especially in the Silverlake(?) & hinzellman scenes but it was painful in many other parts.

    This was a dark fantasy that tried to be sometimes light-hearted in a Kingish kind of way that ended up being sporadically annoying.

    This is the only novel I have read by Gaiman and I appreciate the respect he holds for the classic sci-fi and high fantasy authors (Cabell and Mirlees) so I think I will read something else by him despite this harsh review.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2001

    Were is Neverwhere

    I have read most everything by Neil Gaiman. And I have met him and talked to him, a very gracious human being. But when I look and read this book, his new one that is American Gods, I don't seem to be able to get into it like I did with Neverwhere, which is excellent. HIs previous book before American Gods, I think it was Star...something,I bought it anyways, read 1/3 of it, and it laid about for awhile, I tried to read it again, and again I just couldn't get into it, like this one. Sorry Neil, but Neverwhere is your best.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent epic urban fantasy

    Shadow went to prison for beating up two men, but receives parole after three years of doing time. Because he is big and radiates a ¿don¿t mess¿ attitude, Shadow had no problems there. Two days before he is to be freed, the warden informs Shadow that his wife died and he can leave to make proper funeral arrangements. Shadow loved his wife and is rocked by the news. <P>When Mr. Wednesday arrives on the scene just before the funeral of Shadow¿s wife, the grieving ex-con welcomes the craziness that ensues. Mr. Wednesday is actually Odin and with the other ancient gods and mythical creatures walks the earth though no one believes in them anymore. Mr. Wednesday and cohorts are growing weaker and he wants to make one last confrontation for the hearts of Americans. <P> Neil Gaiman uses flashbacks to show how leprechauns, Odin, pixies other creatures of myth and legend other came to the New World. They traveled here in the hearts and souls of the immigrants. This pure epic urban fantasy demonstrates why Mr. Gaiman remains the grandmaster of the sub-genre. The Old Ones need people to believe in them again, but doubt they can achieve their noble objective. The climax is incredibly original so that no one will guess what will happen. AMERICAN GODS might prove to be the fantasy tale of 2001 as it is already that of the midpoint. <P>Harriet Klausner

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2010

    Worth reading

    This is a good adventure story that forces you to look at Gods in a new way. It has good Character development, many good twists and I was amazed when all elements of the plot were brought together in the end. If you like stories that include adventure, changing relationships, love, and war you will enjoy this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2010

    VERY INNOVATIVE

    I had heard about Gaiman, but never read one of his works. AMERICAN GODS is a good blend of real life and fantasy, done in a unique and interesting manner. The story moves along swiftly, and the descriptions of the numerous and varied gods is fascinating and informative (clearly, a significant amount of research went into the writing). I would recommend this to anyone interested in fantasy works, but I'm not positive it would have a broader appeal.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent read!

    From the moment I picked up this book, I was struck by the author's writing style, and although I had never previously read anything by Neil Gaiman, there was a familiarity that sucked me in. I soon realized that the familiarity was a combination of good literature and a modern point of view that encapsulated my own interest in religions and popular culture. The characters and tales woven into the pages, tales of gods of the old world and gods of modern times, were so well developed and so carefully intertwined, I couldn't wait to return to the book each time I set it down. American Gods is a wild ride across the American landscape, touching down in familiar places and taking you to the realm of the gods. Highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An outstanding read

    Neil Gaiman has established himself as one of the finest writers to grace us in the modern century. American Gods is an epic book, where within minutes belief is suspended and one becomes immersed in a story influenced by other stories old and new.

    The plot moves at freight train speed, with breakneck turns and whipping highs and lows, all centered with a most alluring protagonist: Shadow is an enigma, wrapped in a dangerous past and possessing incredible loyalty.

    I could gush all day at this fantastic read, but the best thing to do is pick it up, immerse yourself, and ever after glance about with the thought that gods may in fact live, breathe, and suffer along with the rest of us. GREAT BOOK!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    Astoundingly dull

    Rarely has so little been done with such an ambitious plot.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2006

    Good premise... but too long winded.

    After reading Neverwhere I was an instant Gaiman fan. That book was outstanding and I read it cover to cover in about 2 days. I guess my expectations for American Gods was quite high. In the end, I didnt really care about any of the characters. Shadow was an interesting protagonist, but not one that I could relate too, or understand. His actions were unexpected in teh beginning, but by the end pretty predictable. The plot twists were good, but I did not have any real 'aha' moments (Hinzelmann was so obviously not what he appeared to be). I also think that one of the best things abotu Gaiman is his wit. I had more than a few hearty chuckles during neverwhere, but not many in this one. It took me a long time to read and I would only get through a handful of pages before getting bored and putting it down. By the middle i just skimmed through many passages. Maybe i missed important bits? Either way, it didnt really hold my attention. I was waiting for a moving conclusion, but it didnt come. Still, i got through it, and that deserves at least 3 stars.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2004

    YAWN!

    I am about 3/4 through the book and still can't figure out what it's about. Long.....drawn out.....boring.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2004

    A real dissapointment

    This book is really very silly. Starting with a concept that could be interesting--what happens to gods when there's no one left to worship them?--the narrative degenerates into b-movie stupidity. It undoubtedly would have made a better short story in the Ray Bradbury mode, rather than the hundreds of pages I wasted my time on.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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