Cafe Doom

General Discussions => Book Club => Topic started by: Ed on August 22, 2011, 09:50:51 AM

Title: American Gods
Post by: Ed on August 22, 2011, 09:50:51 AM
Loads of spoilers in this thread, so don't read it if you're intending to read the book or you're half way through it. I'll clearly mark parts where I'm discussing parts of the book with the word 'spoilers' and a few asterisks.

I see at the end of my copy Neil Gaiman has included a bit titled 'Reading Group Discussion Questions', so I thought I'd put them up here, in case anybody wanted to discuss them. They are:

1. American Gods is an epic novel dealing with many big themes, including sacrifice, loyalty, betrayal, love and faith. Which theme affected you most strongly, and why?

2. Shadow begins the novel as a convict, and ends it a different man. How does the novel exploit the idea of America as a place where immigrants and exiles, both physical and emotional, can reinvent themselves. What makes Shadow himself so compelling and complex?

3. American Gods is partly a road trip through small-town America, where Shadow can see the darker side of life that other people ignore. What does the novel say about what people will accept in order to maintain a sense of normality?

4. The old gods expects sacrifice, violence and worship. How have they adapted to the modern world? What does this say about the nature of divinity? How and why have Americans transferred their devotion to the new technological and material  gods from the old spiritual gods? What comment is being made about modern cultural values?

5. What is the significance of the illusions, cons and magic tricks that occur throughout the novel? American Gods is a novel where magic, myth and the divine coexist with the normal, mundane and human in a way that is utterly believable. How is that illusion maintained?

6. How does the rick background description increase the power of the narrative? What do the secondary characters, particularly the gods whose lives and deaths we are given insight into, add to the novel?

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: Ed on August 22, 2011, 11:05:35 AM


1. I didn't feel particularly affected by any of the themes, although I did feel the betrayal and disappointment Shadow felt after finding out his wife died with his best friend's penis in her mouth. That's got a be a real kick in the balls after spending three years in prison with her being the only person he was looking forward to seeing. Why it affected me? I don't know. I suppose it's because I value loyalty over most attributes, so it stands to reason betrayal would be one of the things I most abhor.

2. America is less and less of a place where people can make a new start and reinvent themselves, I think. You need ID for pretty much everything you do there. There are few opportunities for a convicted criminal to make a fresh start. Compared to the UK, I find America a far more persecutory society -- you make one slip and it's extraordinarily hard to get back on track, whereas in the UK there are lots of opportunities for betterment, and I think more of a willingness to forgive and let people have a second chance.

Personally, I didn't think Shadow was a compelling and complex character -- I thought he was a bit dull, TBH. For much of the story he is purely reactive, rather than proactive. It's only in the last eighth of the book that he takes it upon himself to do something. The rest of the time the story just happens to him. He's likeable enough, but only because he's not overly emotional, and he's loyal. It's never explained why he took part in the robbery in the first place, but surely his reasons for taking part say a lot about his character. I'd feel a lot more sympathetic toward him if he'd been duped or blackmailed into taking part. He didn't have the worst start in life, so why did he end up a criminal?

3. The novel says people will accept pretty much anything in order to maintain a sense of normality. I'm not so sure that's true, though. If a small town was losing a kid a year, year on year, for over a century, I don't think that would go unnoticed, and I don't think people would really put up with it, no matter what the perceived gain. Maybe people back in ancient times, more superstitious times, would be willing to sacrifice livestock and even their own children to their gods, but I think that time has long since passed.

4. The old gods have adapted to the modern world by seeking adoration by whatever means necessary. Easter doesn't much care that people don't know what she's all about, but gratefully accepts their worship. Nanci comes back from singing kareoke with his hair darker and looking healthier. Czernobog gains strength from visiting ghosts at the scene of a bloodbath. They take what they can use. This says divinity, perhaps, is equal to fame, at least in some measure. After all, a forgotten god is a weak and eventually dead god. The comment being made about modern cultural values is that emphasis is placed on wealth and fame over more worthwhile spiritual attributes. It's a comment about our materialistic society. I have to say this materialistic society has pretty much always been so, I think. It's just that we have more to yearn after than ever before, I reckon. Years ago, people yearned after different things, just the same. The only difference is they were more god-fearing than modern society.

5. I'm not sure what the significance of the illusions, cons and tricks are in the novel. I suppose it's making the world and world rules less solid, mor flexible in our minds, so that we are willing to believe more fantastical things than we normally would. It creates a mode of acceptance for the fantastic. The illusion is maintained by the numerous dream sequences and their interaction with the other worlds that exist withing the novel.

6. I reckon 'rick' must be a typo for 'rich', so I'll answer on that basis. I found the description sometimes pointless and clogging, but I imagine some people like it, and for them it probably helps with pace -- slowing the story down, making it last longer -- and it helps ground the reader in the worlds laid out before them. The secondary character accounts worked like short stories, interludes, which were sometimes refreshing, and at other times a little tedious for me. The whole slave tangent went on too long for my tastes, for instance. By and large they helped the reader see how the old gods found a footing in the new world.

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: leatherdykeuk on August 23, 2011, 04:18:59 AM
You make some very good points Ed -- I'm almost sorry I recommended it now! If I ever get my copy back off my son I'll re-read it. Pehaps ten years on I'll have a different opinion of it.

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: Rev. Austin on August 23, 2011, 06:08:43 AM
I also feel like re-reading it, with those questions in mind. I really enjoyed the book, but can't remember enough of it to make coherent answers to those questions  ::)

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: Ed on August 23, 2011, 06:27:34 AM
Don't be sorry, LD -- I thought the book was OK, and I've been meaning to read something by Neil Gaiman for a while now, because I keep hearing his name. Must admit I wondered the same thing, whether I would have liked it more ten or twenty years ago. I found the base premise quite interesting, but not enough to carry a novel on its own, so that leaves it needing Shadow's journey for balance. The trouble I had was that I didn't feel invested in the MC.

BTW, it wasn't until right at the end of the book that I found out he was half caste (or whatever the PC term is for white father, black mother). This doesn't really have any bearing on the plot, but I went all the way through the book with one image of the guy in my mind, whereas it might have been drastically different if I had known his mum was black.


Another thing I really don't get is how Laura turned out to be some kind of ninja. I get the slutty princess image of her to start with, but then she (out of the blue) wipes out a whole train full of armed hard men, CIA, FBI, MiB, whatever they were. Now, if Shadow couldn't do it, being a giant of a man, how the hell was she supposed to manage it? Same goes for Town -- he's a trained assassin. How does the dead cheerleader manage to overcome somebody like that so damn easily? It doesn't make sense to me.

Likewise, as mentioned before, Shadow lets Laura die at the end, when he knew how to save her. If he truly loved her, then he surely would have gone that extra mile for her, even if in the throes of death she says she wants the opposite. People in moments of weakness or pain will say they want death, permanent death, just as Shadow did, but I'd like to think a good friend, husband, wife, would get the other person through that, one way or another. And if he was going to let her die, I wanted to know his reasoning, after being back from choosing 'nothing' himself.

Small one: The purple car -- Shadow only had enough money for a $500 deposit on a $6,000 car, yet the people let him drive it away, and he never paid them any more money for it.

***end of spoilers

All in all, there was much to like about the book. There were quite a few strong characters, and I liked the pastiche of small town life around the lake. Had he crammed it all into a three or four hundred page book, I think I would have liked it more. Perhaps buying the author's preferred text version was a mistake? We all know how authors need a good editor to chop and slash at what they write. A free rein is not always a good thing, is it?

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: Ed on August 23, 2011, 06:46:23 AM
I see on, somebody calls it slow, and their version is 461 pages long. Many of the neutral or negative reviews say the MC is 'hollow', or that they felt no emotional attachment to the main characters. Yet some people rave about how good it is.

Isn't that always the way? :smiley:

Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: delboy on August 23, 2011, 09:41:02 AM
A good list to compile would be of those books that people have foisted upon you insisting "It's my favourite all time book! You'll love it" and that it turns out that you didn't actually think much of. Must admit, I'm guilty of doing this and am always amazed at how some people don't like the books that I like  ;)


Title: Re: American Gods
Post by: marc_chagall on September 11, 2011, 03:12:11 PM
Just finished the long version, and I didn't find it slow at all. The text positively raced. I suppose that's because I'm used to the much slower pace of lit fic. In 'American Gods', I felt Gaiman simply wanted to tell the story without letting it get bogged down with anything that didn't move the plot forward.

Loki's always been one of my favourite characters in myth/fiction and (Wagnerian) opera and he didn't disappoint, but I felt Odin/Wednesday needed more stature than Gaiman gives him, even given what happens to gods when they're in America.

I was aware of the fact that Shadow was completely passive for most of the novel, but I know I was only aware of that because of what I've read on this forum about how one should make the MC proactive. If I didn't know that, I wouldn't have noticed. Gaiman breaks the rule, and it works. Shadow isn't a victim. He's a passenger. An observer. We view this shadow-world (appropriately enough) through his eyes.

I found the book extremely readable, but too lightweight for my taste. Some books I get to the end and immediately want to re-read. Not so this one, but I'll probably skim through it again in about ten years time when I've completely forgotten it.

TinyPortal 1.0 RC1 | © 2005-2010 BlocWeb