I first read American Gods when I was twenty-five. It was only my second Neil Gaiman book; I’d read Stardust several months earlier and completely fell in love with it, so it seemed like a no-brainer to give this one a go, since so many people were over the moon about it. What I found was not what I expected.
The book is long and meandering. Its characters inhabit the grey areas of the world. They do gross things, immoral things, right alongside utterly mundane and profound things. They murder and cheat and rob. They love and live and die. And it was a subtle book, subtlety not being something I enjoyed in my fiction at the time. It was also raw and provoking. I remember being profoundly uncomfortable with several of the scenes (the Ifrit and the cabbie comes to mind immediately, as well as the first scene with Bilquis). In the end, I came away with an intellectual appreciation for it, but nothing about it stuck with me, nothing resonated. For years this has been my least favorite Gaiman, even though I gave it four stars on Goodreads as a sort of pat on the back, oh-well-you-tried gesture.
But I’ve had so many experiences lately with revisiting books where my opinions have changed, sometimes drastically, it was inevitable I’d make it back around to American Gods. I’d be lying if I said I anticipated liking this more; I didn’t think I’d changed that much. But pretty much everything that sat weird with me the first time was actually something I enjoyed this time around. I liked the slower, leisurely pace. I liked the grey areas. I liked the weird sex. I liked the sense of melancholy that permeated the whole thing, the darkness. I enjoyed being provoked.
It’s still not my favorite Gaiman, but I definitely get it now. And I can’t wait to see what Bryan Fuller does with it in the TV show. (I was already picturing Ian McShane the whole time I was listening to it. Which reminds me, if you read this, make sure to read the 10th Anniversary version that has the author’s preferred text. And do the 10th Anniversary full cast recording if you like audiobooks. The dude who plays Shadow has a voice like warm honey drizzled over cornbread, like slow morning sex in springtime, with the windows open. It’s good is what I’m saying.)