The bestselling author of Neverwhere returns with his biggest, most commercial novel yet—a tour de force of contemporary fiction
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.
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About the Author
Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Norse Mythology, Neverwhere, and The Graveyard Book. Among his numerous literary awards are the Newbery and Carnegie medals, and the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Will Eisner awards. Originally from England, he now lives in America.
Date of Birth:November 10, 1960
Place of Birth:Portchester, England
Education:Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
Read an Excerpt
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.
What People are Saying About This
Here we have . . . a real emotional richness and grandeur that emerge from masterful storytelling.
American Gods is like a fast run downhill through a maze — both exhilarating and twisted.
Gaiman has managed to tell the tallest of tales in the most believable fashion. An important, essential book.
Neil Gaiman, a writer of rare perception and endless imagination . . . is . . . an American treasure.
“Gaiman understands the shape of stories.”
A magical modern Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — this book will astonish you on ever page.
American Gods is sexy, thrilling, dark, funny and poetic.
“Original, engrossing, and endlessly inventive; a picaresque journey across America where the travelers are even stranger than the roadside attractions.”
Reading Group Guide
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- "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?
- 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?
- 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?
- "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.
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.
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?
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book turned me over completely to Neil Gaiman and made me drooly and ga-ga for his writing like a Twilight fangirl on too much fairy dust. I've read a few of Gaiman's works before ( The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and Stardust), but none have blown me so completely out of the boiling seas like American Gods. American Gods is one of the quirkiest books on American culture and belief that I've read. Told from the perspective of a particularly insightful non-American, American Gods takes a long, hard look at how cultures and religions mesh, change, and fade in the states. How do Americans define and create faith? What gods does a godless nation--or maybe an excessively god-full nation--have with not even 300 years of national existence under its belt? With ghosts, murders, gods (both forgotten and barely worshipped), Naiman weaves a tale that suspends previous conceptions of the American psyche, turns it up on its head, and makes you question, Who really is that homeless crazy in the subway station calling himself Mr. Wednesday? Like the questions it poses, the story is not straightforward. Rather, it's a meandering road trip that takes numerous pit stops at creepy carnivals and random road-side attractions. Only, you have old worn-out gods and cranky demons for company.
I was unsure if this was my kind of book, but was intrigued by the title and therefore decided to give it a shot. After finishing the book, it wasn't at all what I expected before starting the book--it was better. I'll admit that when I first read reviews of American Gods, I didn't exactly understand what the book was about, or what I'd be getting myself into. I now understand that the reason that the synopsis were so vague, was because there is no way to describe the plot without it sounding slightly absurd. The only way to know and understand what it is about is to read it. The tone of this book reflected the mood and feelings of the protagonist. Therefore, the language was a little crude at times. This is only natural and quite realistic in this modern day. This might bother some people, but if they get even a few chapters through the book, they will immediately see how amazing this book is. *To get a better idea of whether or not you will like this book, the story and type of journey somewhat reminded me of Windupbird Chronicle by Murakamai. If you liked that book, you will definitely enjoy this book.
This is one of my favorite books, and it was great to see it available as an e-book. If you like a sophisticated fantasy set in the modern world, American Gods is for you.
Really great read. Engaging story and characters. I had no idea where this story was going to end up. Loved it.
Throughout my 45years of life, whenever I was asked what my favorite book was, I would ponder and think. Without fail, I would never be able to come up with a favorite, although I had read many, many wonderful books. I can now say without a doubt that I have finally found my favorite book.
A great read and hugely engrossing although impossible to describe. Read this. You'll be glad you did.
A new look at the idea of Gods. Do you believe in one God or more Gods? Have you wondered about past civilizations and their Gods? What happens to the Gods of old, when they become irrelevant? This book was an interesting read.
This is one of the best books I've ever read. Neil gaimen is my faviorite author and he will be for a very long time. Everyone should read his books,expessially this one. I assure you, you won't be disapointed.
Two of my friends love it and I and another hate it. It's not the writing. It's the story, the subject matter. Just not my thing at all. You have to try it for yourself
Somewhere in the afterword, Mr. Gaiman apologizes for his audacity in taking on and writing about what makes "America" tick. No apologies necessary, Mr. Gaiman. Well, done. Especially the Carousel Room at the House on the Rock. I think I may have had similar thoughts when I was in that Quonset Hut so many, many years ago. Many thanks for putting that bizarrely magical place (and other places) down in print.
This is a fun book, very entertaining and is worth the time. Neil Gaiman is an exceptuional writer.
This book took me a little longer than most to get through; i found it a bit stale in the middle. Turns out the middle is important though and I'm glad i read the whole book. Fascinating idea for book! A tale of survival, mystery, sacrifice, love, and wonder. I recommend everyone read it. P.s. what is with all the fake reviews... very annoying!
Buy it and read it. Hands-down one of the greatest books of the past few decades.
This was a very interesting book and not at all what I was expecting. It weaves the tales of many people and the spirit of the book was quite enjoyable.
I loved this book. The basic premise of gods brought to America and then abandoned is a neat one and lends itself to many interesting plot lines. I also found a new place to add to my wish list to visit; the House on the Rock. Weird place, but actually real.
I've spent 30 minutes trying to find something to say about this book, and the best i can come up with is it's creative. The writing didn't grab me. The story didn't hold me. Based on the reviews i forced myself to finish it, and i turned the last page, thinking to myself ... "so what??"
As a current writer, few weave tales like Neil Gamain. American Gods is a redeeming road trip tale full of unforgettable characters. You are pulled from page to page as the story touches on religions old and new.
Awsome. Just awsome.
It was hard to put this book down. Then again its hard to put any of his books down.
I loved this book and I think you're all being really disrespectful to the author by using it as a chat room. How would YOU like it if you wrote a book and saw these reviews? Please use more respect in the future.
Bland, unmotivated main character who does what he is told and doesn't think for himself. Interesting side stories and characters that are left unexplored and unexplained.
Killer, as always. The author never disappoints.
There were moments where things were slow but it definitely kept me interested and wondering what was gonna happen.