Suggested listening: Born in the USA

AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman deserves to be one of the seminal fantasy works of the modern age. Impeccably paced, with a dark and rich imagination, the book takes us on a road trip through the heart of America in search of the spiritual core.

It weaves the tale of a battle between the old gods brought to the new land from the old countries and the new gods (Television, internet etc.) which threaten to kill off the old. What’s great about this book though, is the fact that although the premise is epic, it remains an almost mundane battle between ‘normal’ people. You could almost call this book un-American.

We meet our protagonist, Shadow, when he’s released from prison for defending his wife’s honour. He’s released a couple of days early, but it’s so he can attend his wife’s funeral. From there he meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday, and the scene is set for a road trip to meet the old gods and the new.

When we first meet Shadow, he’s getting through his prison sentence by simply not caring. He’s not angry or sad in prison, and this gets him through his time. He doesn’t want any of his problems and he certainly doesn’t want anybody else’s. When he hears about his wife’s death, he continues his emotional numbness, and when he finds out she died while giving another man a blowjob again he feels no emotion.

On his journey though, he starts to discover his emotional core again. This journey is giving our protagonist a sense of purpose and direction in life. It’s a well worn plot device to have your protagnist ‘discover themselves’ on a road-trip, but Gaiman pulls it off with enough authenticity that at no stage does it seem hackneyed or clichéd.

It comes in at about 750-odd pages but this tale feels like it’s moving at a relentless pace, with even its digressions being a good insight into the characters and the lore of the tale.

The characters our protagonist meets along the way are in their own ways quite unforgettable. From the drunken ‘leprechaun’, to the god of the internet (who incidentally is a pimple-ridden teenager......for some reason), all of the characters have a refreshing uniqueness about them. At their heart, they’re all insecure and vulnerable creatures, as their very existence depends on the worship of mortals.

What strikes you about the book is the absurd mundanity of it all. Here we have a secret battle fought between gods, sacrifices, Lucy getting her tits out on TV, and yet it retains a deeply personal quality. The characters are deeply-flawed people trying to cling onto past glories, and I think that most people on some level can relate to that.

In the midst of deeply personal battles, you have a deeper philosophical journey going on. This is a book which examines the need for a spiritual centre for a land such as America, and what better way for that to happen then to have a conflict between various gods for the few remaining souls?

Folks, this is a great book and deserves to be read. Gaiman has constructed a world rich in imagination, with deep themes that manages to stay totally original from start to finish. The Anti-Cookie recommends this read so very, very highly.

- James McGrath


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