If Stephen King is the King Of Blatant Shameless Freakishness, then Neil Gaiman is the Emperor of Subtle Fine Freakishness.
Neil Gaiman doesn't do sharp teeth or gooey ickiness or wet warm blood. He does it in a way that's so subtle and refined and quiet that you forget it's supposed to be freaky. And then you remember. And then you get a wee bit scared.
Take this excerpt for example.
"The telephone in Shadow's apartment was still silent and dead. He thought about getting it connected, but could think of no-one he wanted to call. Late one night he picked it up and listened, and was convinced that he could hear a wind blowing and a distant conversation between a group of people talking in voices too low to properly make out. He said, 'Hello?' and 'Who's there?' but there was no reply, only a sudden silence and then the faraway sound of laughter, so faint he was not certain he was not imagining it."
Shadow, in question, is a convict. Days before his release from prison, he is told that his wife has died in a mysterious car crash. Numb with grief and confusion, he gets on a plane home, where he meets the enigmatic and decidedly odd Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a former god. Shadow, having nothing else left to live for,agrees to work for Mr Wednesday. So they embark on a strange journey across the United States, from New York to Las Vegas, from South Dakota to San Francsico, while a so-called "storm" breaks out, and a war of supernatural and divine proportions is poised to break out.
Shadow meets multititudes of the most remarkable people, all at one time who were gods, brought over from their native lands in the minds and hearts of the people who migrated to the New World.
While Shadow himself struggles with his true identity, and that of the "gods" around him, and his dead wife's corpse who keeps returning to him.
It may not sound like much, but the fact that I am blogging about this book before I have even finished it (just 200 pages to go!) gives you an idea of how good it is.
A great deal of research is necessary in reading American Gods. Neil Giaman features gods, deities and mythological figures from practically every known civilization; Norse, Native American, Bavarian, African, Asian, Arabic, Egyptian. Hindu gods, Chinese gods,Greek gods, Roman gods, even Jesus Christ is given a mention. The process of finding out the stories and details behind the myths and legends, and drawing parallels and lines and connections to the story, are just as fascinating as the book itself.
However if you are familiar with Norse and Scandinavian mythology, to a certain degree, the plot will be quite obvious to you. But Neil Giaman is a fabulous enough author to not let your knowledge of what should happen next spoil the read.
In any case, Bloody Awful Poetry highly recommends.