First things first. I’m not making this spoiler-free so proceed at your own risk.
Now, given that American Gods is now a decade old, and assuming you’re familiar with it so you’re reading this review to see how the full cast adaptation of the definitive edition is, you’re fine. If you haven’t read it, do so now.
I am not here to review this novel as Michael M. Jones has already done that for us in his review which in part says that: ‘American Gods is the sort of book where you have to reread passages several times, just to be sure you’ve caught the meaning properly. It’s subtle, complex, and at the same time straightforward. It’s a story about gods, men, belief, and change. This is the sort of book just about anyone can appreciate. It’s about the hero’s journey, the rite of passage, the invisible living among us, a cross between Joseph Campbell and Emma Bull, with plenty of Gaiman’s own unique style thrown in for good measure. I promise you, it has enough twists that even the most jaded reader will be surprised at least once or twice. And for those who keep their minds and expectations wide open, prepare yourselves for one hell of a journey.’
Briefly stated, the old gods of Europe are real and immigrated to American when their believers came here. Like The gods in Charles de Lint’s Forests of the Heart, some of them prospered, some didn’t, and of course new gods have arisen in America that resent these older gods. So both sides are scheming to remove the other side from existence.
I first read American Gods in the Hill House Authors Preferred Text edition which is the version Neil preferred but which the publisher at that time thought needed extensive trimming, which was also done to his earlier novel, Neverwhere. (Note to Harper Collins: please, please do a full cast adaptation of Neverwhere!) American Gods is to my thinking his best novel to date and it is perfect reading as the weather grows cold.
I usually walk at least ninety minutes a day so over the past decade I have come to love audiobooks. And the quality of audiobooks has improved amazingly in that time — gone are the flat monotone readings of text with no background music or even proper engineering. Now everything I listen to is wonderfully rendered in a manner that becomes a pleasure to the ear and to the mind.
American Gods certainly holds true to this and ranks among the finest adaptations I’ve heard. Certainly the narrator, Dennis Boutsikaris, is perfect for reading the story, and Ron McLarty as Mr. Wednesday and Daniel Oreskes as Shadow work wonderfully, given their characterizations in the novel. I actually get a stronger feel for Odin (aka Mr. Wednesday) here than I do in reading the text. That in part is because I’m hearing the description of him including his mismatched grey eyes and the Ygggdrasil tie pin he wears thereby seeing him in my mind as what Odin would look like.
Oddly enough it appears that none of them have done much voice-over work, which surprised me as it felt like all of them had extensive experience. They have all been active acting in the Law & Order franchise, which tells you that they’re all New Yorkers!
I was amazed how well Gaiman’s story works as a ‘theater of the mind’ piece. Quoting Michael’s review again: ‘American Gods is the sort of book where you have to reread passages several times, just to be sure you’ve caught the meaning properly. It’s subtle, complex, and at the same time straightforward.’ I think it’s not quite as straightforward as Michael thinks it is, particularly in the early stretches as it has a number of side stories that will (eventually) will make sense. Oh, and do be advised that this is adult work so if strong language, i.e. “cunt” and “tits,” offends you, this is not for you. Be also advised that this is the first work of his that invites comparison (favorably) to Clive Barker’s horror writings as what is somewhat spooky if you’re reading it is quite horrific when hearing it.
So how good is this version? Simply put, superb. So superb in fact that I plan on re-listening to it later this winter and I very, very rarely do that as quite frankly I usually have three to five audiobooks in my to-be-reviewed queue.
One last note: if you prefer reading the newly restored text, Harper Collins has released that finally in a printed form.