It's appropriate that a writer who came to this country as an adult should attempt to forge a new mythology for his adopted homeland. One of the dominant myths of the U.S. is that of eternal newness, and Neil Gaiman's new novel insists that, in time, the past will catch up with us and we should be ready for it.
Gaiman, an Englishman by birth, has obviously been closely observing his new home. American Gods is a big book, filled with vivid imagery, wacky locations, vigorous writing and intriguing, if sometimes scary, ideas and characters.
From the start we realize something odd is going on. People don't usually watch a passenger leave on a plane, then run into the same person at a bar in the next small town. Young men with eyes the color of old computer monitors, smoking something that smells like burning electrical parts, don't usually get driven around in large limos by large men who are more than willing to do their bidding. From the shocking beginning which we won't spoil for you onward, Gaiman takes us across the country, stopping off at some famous roadside attractions as well as some lesser known spots: the House on the Rock in Wisconsin figures prominently, as does Lebanon, Kansas, the exact center of America. But, as Gaiman notes in a Caveat, and Warning for Travelers, "This is a work of fiction, not a guidebook." In American Gods there are pre-Columbus visits to these shores by Norwegians, Polynesians, Irish, Chinese and more. When these visitors died out, left or were killed, Gaiman explains, their gods stayed behind. Sometimes they changed form, grew or shrank, but they were always present.
The old gods' existence is threatened by the new gods, such as Media and Cancer. One of the old harsh gods has a plan to survive, and he will do whatever it takes to claw his way back to power.
American Gods will draw you in, make you want to drive or take the train across the country to experience the vastness that is the USA. Following the journeys taken in the book would make a heck of a road trip, but you'll be praying the events of the novel don't happen to you.
Gavin Grant lives in Brooklyn, where he reviews, writes and publishes speculative fiction.