First, let me preface this by saying that I don't write book reviews. That's not my place. When I blog about a book, it's meant as a way to recommend it and express my thoughts/feelings. I only blog about books that I really enjoy and would encourage others to read. So think of this as a non-review.
"I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were."
~Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
American Gods is a book about a lot of things, and in my mind, it reads as a myth about myths, which is a really clever way of telling the kind of story largely lost amid modern day writing.
Mythology is fascinating. No matter the culture of origin, it always boils down to a crazy, violent, sex-filled soap opera, starring a pantheon of extreme personalities, not stingy with their lust, wrath, or greediness. I'm mostly familiar with Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian mythology, and the Norse and Egyptian feature heavily in the novel. It was a lot of fun figuring out who was who as the story went along. By the end, I'm convinced - SPOILER ALERT - that our hero, Shadow, was actually Baldr, though it's never strictly stated and I haven't bothered to research whether or not this is the case. It's my head-canon, shall we say.
Shadow is not a brash character - his name is very fitting. He's quiet, thoughtful, and takes things, crazy things, in stride with an unnatural calm. That's what I mean when I say it reads like a myth: the narrative text itself unfolds in the plain poetry of old mythic tales. The supernatural is not something marveled over, merely stated. The sky is blue, the wind is cold, and Odin has magical ravens. Right. Okay. The prose is highly evocative and descriptive, without being cluttered. Clever turns of phrases mixed with melancholy observations. Gaiman is a subtle, clever, undeniably English writer (I mean this in the best way possible), while managing to capture the American road-trip aesthetic wonderfully. Mythology reads as a statement of fact, and so does this novel.
For a frame of reference, I would liken it to the American Odyssey-inspired film O Brother Where Art Thou, that episode of Supernatural where the boys ended up at a roadside rec center that Loki and co. were using as a feast hall, and one of my personal favorite guilty pleasure TV gems, the New Zealand show The Almighty Johnsons.
Neil Gaiman's going on my list of Damn Fine Writers, a favorite for sure. I'd recommend even if you aren't sure mythology's your cuppa.