This was possibly one of the most bizarre reads that I've ever stuck with ... to the bitter end. I read Gaiman's fantasy Neverwhere last year with an on'line group and loved its quirky characters and spooky/creepy/weird plotline. It was nothing compared to this tome!
So ... the premise of this book is that North America, the great wilderness is inhabited by the gods that the native peoples believed in and the gods brought by explorers, immigrants, castaways and slaves over the milennia. However, these ancient gods are feeling pretty threatened by the new gods that modern American civilzation has turned to ...
No longer are we hapless humans happy to kowtow to Christ, Thor, Anansi, Mami Wawa, Selene, etc, etc. We've got new gods to worship - those of modern media, Internet gods, the gods of commercialism and those gods are just as jealous and power hungry as the ancient gods, just as bloodthirsty, just as tricky and downright devious! Looks like there's a confrontation brewing!
Wrapped up in this brewing conflagration, is Shadow, our human protagonist. Shadow has just done a term in the state prison and is looking to head home to his wife and a job provided by a good friend, but the gods have other plans ... tragedy strikes and Shadow learns that his wife and best friend are killed in a highway accident. The road home for Shadow becomes a series of strange encounters with even stranger folk. Shadow comes to undertand that he is dealing with creatures from the heavens and the underworld, as he makes connections through dreams, bizarre meetings along the road, and in the air. Think of this book as 'Trains,Planes, and Automobiles' with a decidedly phantasmagorical bent !
Gaiman always has had a creative imagination! In this book, he uses it plus an encyclopedic knowledge of different cultural gods and goddesses to create strange comment on religion, faith, reverence and duty, courage and rewards.
Did I like it? Yes and no. It was real work reading this book. I had to Google a kazillion times to figure out who some of the characters were based on. I had to take breaks from some of the more bizarre encounters that Shadow made ... cookbooks are a great release, just sayin'. Ultimately, though, Gaiman drew me back. I couldn't help but want to see Shadow come out of this horrible chapter of his life on an even keel, headed for some sort of peace with himself, his past, and his spiritual mindset, and his future ... oh, and there was the matter of that strange disappearance and presumed murder ... yeah, that too.