Two days before getting out of prison, Shadow learns that his beloved wife, the one thing that kept him sane when he was inside, died in a car accident with his best friend, Bobbie. At the funeral, he learns that the two had been having a torrid affair for years. Dazed by grief and confused by what he’d just learned, Shadow accepts a job from a sleazy character named Wednesday, who hires him to protect him.
Soon it’s revealed that Wednesday is Odin, and that he is recruiting all the old gods the immigrants brought to America with them to fight a mighty battle with America’s new gods: Internet, Media, Cars, etc.
Gaiman takes us on a long –too long– trek through the States and through the many arrivals of peoples to America, from the Vikings on. Unfortunately, unless one has an intimate knowledge of world deities and their roles, the narration becomes confusing and somewhat obscure. Throughout all this, the protagonist, Shadow, dreams a series of dreams that seem pointless, even in the end.
The “new” gods are vague and serve only as a backdrop; they have a very limited role, and it is a geeky one at that.
American Gods is a rambling story that leaves the reader dissatisfied. Its only redeeming quality is Gaiman’s demonstration of how varied and culturally different Americans are. Perhaps, in the end, the message is that what unifies them, as a people, is the new gods.