Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow's dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost--the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.
Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow's road story is the heart of the novel, and it's here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. "This is a bad land for Gods," says Shadow.
More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what's real and what's not. --Therese Littleton
Gaiman's protagonist Shadow has patiently done his time in prison. But as the moment of his release approaches, he begins to sense that some unnamed disaster is lying in wait for him. As he makes his way home, he encounters the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who appears to be both a refugee from a distant country at war and the King of America. And perhaps even a god. As Shadow and Mr Wednesday begin a bizarre odyssey across the United States, solving murders is only one of their accomplishments. With an epic storm of supernatural origin brewing, one questions whether they will be destroyed before Shadow pays the price for grim mistakes in his past.
The use of language here is impeccable, and it is wedded to a surreal narrative that brings out the most quirky and unsettling aspects of Gaiman's imagination. Forget Gaiman the Guru: just enjoy Gaiman the consummate writer:
He opened his mouth to catch the rain as it fell, moistening his cracked lips and his dry tongue, wetting the ropes that bound him to the trunk of the tree. There was a flash of lightning so bright it fell like a blow to his eyes, transforming the world into an intense panorama of image and after-image. The wind tugged at Shadow, trying to pull him from the tree, flaying him, cutting to the bone. Shadow knew in his soul that the real storm had truly begun...--Barry Forshaw