Chapter 1 Summary
As American Gods begins, a man called Shadow nears the end of a three-year prison sentence. He is a big man who looks tough enough to get through a sentence without being harassed. He has done his time quietly, waiting to get back to life with his wife, Laura.
In prison, Shadow has taught himself to do coin tricks. At the prompting of his cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, he also read a book by the Greek historian Herodotus. Low Key was transferred away from prison recently, and he left Shadow his copy of Herodotus and a nickel.
As Shadow’s release approaches, he grows worried that something will go wrong. He calls Laura, who says everything is fine at home. He watches the goings-on in prison carefully, expecting some problem to blow up and hurt him.
A few days before Shadow’s release, he is called to speak with the warden of the prison—a highly unusual occurrence. The warden explains that Laura has died in a car accident. Shadow is going to be released immediately for the funeral. In a daze, Shadow returns to his cell and packs.
Shadow takes a bus and then a plane toward Eagle Point, Indiana. On the way, he thinks about his first date with Laura. She pressured him to taste her drink, a strawberry daiquiri, and seemed thrilled when he took a sip. Shadow thinks, “Laura loved people to taste what she tasted.” His thoughts linger on these sorts of little things, as if he cannot bring himself to think about the huge fact of her death. Still, it is clear he loved her deeply.
On the flight home, Shadow falls asleep and dreams about a man with the head of a buffalo. The man says, “If you are to survive, you must believe.” This confuses Shadow even in the dream, and his confusion remains when he awakes. He stumbles out of the plane to find himself in the wrong airport. The desk agent tells him that his plane was forced to land early because of a thunderstorm.
Shadow misses his connecting flight and gets directed to a different one. There he is placed in first class next to a stranger who introduces himself as Wednesday. Wednesday seems to know all about Shadow. He offers Shadow a job, but Shadow—annoyed at the tricks this stranger is playing—refuses. The plane makes stops at several small airports, and Shadow slips out early to get away from Wednesday.
Shadow rents a car and drives toward home. On the way,...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Shadow returns to his table at the bar, where he is in the middle of dinner. Wednesday joins him and asks him to accept a job as a bodyguard and messenger. When Shadow replies that he is planning to work at his friend Robbie’s gym, Wednesday hands over a newspaper article. It tells the story of the accident that killed Laura—and it turns out that Robbie was driving the car. He is dead, too.
Feeling numb and figuring he has nothing to lose, Shadow agrees to take the job. Wednesday makes him drink three glasses of mead—a kind of honey wine. Shadow finds the drink disgusting, but Wednesday insists that it is traditional to drink mead to seal a deal.
During this conversation, the men are joined at their table by a tall, red-haired man who claims to be a leprechaun. His name is Mad Sweeney, and he performs tricks with large gold coins. Shadow—though he is good at coin tricks himself—cannot figure out how they are done. Sweeney claims he just grabs the coins “out of the air.” They get drunk, and Mad Sweeney challenges Shadow to a fight. Shadow wins, and Mad Sweeney gives him a coin.
The next day, Shadow attends Laura’s funeral. Laura’s best friend and Robbie’s wife, Audrey, also attends the service—but she spits in the corpse’s face. When Shadow demands an explanation, Audrey provides one: “Your wife died with my husband’s [penis] in her mouth, Shadow.”
This news makes Shadow feel even number than before, and he remains silent during his wife’s burial. After everyone else leaves, he stays behind, staring into the grave. Eventually he tosses Mad Sweeney’s gold coin into the open grave.
Shadow cannot bear to sleep at his old apartment without Laura, so he heads toward the Motel America, where Wednesday has promised to get two rooms. On the way, Shadow is attacked and drugged.
Later, Shadow awakes inside a limousine. Across from him sits a fat, pimple-faced young man who demands to know what Wednesday is doing. Shadow says he does not know, but the young man does not believe this. He insists that Shadow give Wednesday a message:
You tell him he’s history. He’s forgotten. He’s old. Tell him that we are the future...He has been consigned to the Dumpster of history while people like me ride our limos down the superhighway of tomorrow.
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
At the Motel America, Shadow gives Wednesday a garbled version of the message from the fat kid in the limo. Wednesday shrugs it off, calling the kid a “little snot," but says he wants to leave town as soon as possible. Shadow replies that he needs to get rid of Laura’s possessions first.
That night, in his motel room, Shadow dreams that he is in a strange museum full of statues of people with mammoth heads or monster genitals. While he stares at the statues, a voice tells him that these are the gods of the past. They are dead because people stopped worshipping them and forgot they ever existed. The voice adds, “Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
Shadow wakes up terrified from this dream, and it takes him a while to feel sure he is back in real life. As he calms down, he sees a woman sitting on his bed. It is Laura, and although she is sitting up, she looks dead in the darkness. Strangely, she does not scare him nearly as much as the dream did.
Laura says she is still dead, and she cannot explain why she is able to walk around. She seems upset and asks Shadow for a cigarette. This confuses him because she quit before she died. “I did,” she said. “But I’m no longer concerned about the health risks.” Unable to argue with this, Shadow goes down the hall and buys a pack of Virginia Slims from a machine.
Back in his room, Shadow asks Laura if she really had an affair with Robbie. She admits that she did but says she never planned to continue the affair after Shadow got out of prison. The oral sex she gave Robbie in the car was meant as a goodbye, but it ended up causing an accident and killing them both.
During this conversation, the reader learns that Shadow went to prison for Laura’s sake. Neither of them explains precisely what he did for her, but Laura thanks him several times. She also thanks him for the gold coin, which she is wearing on a string around her neck.
Eventually Laura gets up and kisses Shadow good-bye. Her mouth is “cold, and dry, and it [tastes] of cigarettes and of bile.” For him, this disgusting kiss is the final confirmation that she is really dead. She says sourly that he should ask her to stay. The idea disgusts him, but she insists that he will sleep with her “before all this is over.”
When she is gone, Shadow pounds on...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
In the morning, Shadow says he thinks Laura’s visit was a dream. Wednesday calls this “a healthy attitude to have” and asks if Shadow slept with her. Shadow says he did not, but he refuses to say whether he wanted to.
The two men drive to Chicago where Wednesday leads the way to a small apartment inhabited by a family of strange people with Eastern European accents. There are three strange sisters, Zorya Utrennyaya, Zorya Vechernyaya, and Zorya Polunochnaya. The first two sisters spend the day cooking and bickering about fortune telling, but the third sister sleeps the daylight away.
The sisters live with a relative, an old man named Czernobog, who calls Wednesday by the name Votan and speaks longingly about his former job in a slaughterhouse. He informs Shadow that there is an art to killing a cow with a single blow to the head.
Wednesday tries to convince Czernobog to help with a plan nobody explains to Shadow. Czernobog refuses, saying that his brother would help with a plan like that, but his brother is “gone.” Shadow, attempting to be kind, asks if the two brothers were close. Czernobog seems confused by the question. “How could we be?” he says. “We cared about such different things.”
As the afternoon wears on, Czernobog challenges Shadow to a game of checkers. Against Wednesday’s advice, Shadow agrees to a bizarre bet: if Shadow wins, Czernobog helps with Wednesday’s mysterious plan. But if Czernobog wins, he gets to murder Shadow by hitting him in the head with a hammer. In the end, they each win one game, and they agree that Czernobog must fulfill his part of the deal before killing Shadow.
Afterward, Wednesday talks to Shadow in private about the game. “That was good,” he says. “Very, very stupid of you. But good.”
That night, Shadow dreams of dying in an explosion. He awakes to find Zorya Polunochnaya, the sister who was sleeping all day, standing at the window and staring out at the Big Dipper. She takes Shadow out on the fire escape, and they climb up to the roof. There, she explains that in her country, the Big Dipper was believed to be a demon that could come down to Earth and destroy everything. Three sisters had to watch the sky all day and all night to make sure this did not happen.
Shadow tells Zorya Polunochnaya about Laura rising from the dead, and Zorya Polunochnaya...
(The entire section is 768 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
After leaving the home of Czernobog and the three sisters, Wednesday takes Shadow to rob a bank. On the way, Wednesday admires Shadow’s silver dollar and tells him to be careful with an important gift like that. He comments that Lady Liberty, on the coin, was originally French—but then he adds that all Americans are originally from somewhere else.
Offhand, Wednesday says that it would be good if it snowed. He tells Shadow to think of snow, and Shadow does so. Eventually, Wednesday says to stop thinking about snow quite so much. Sure enough, the sky is full of clouds, and snow is beginning to fall. Shadow thinks this is a coincidence.
The bank is closed. Wednesday dresses up like a guard and puts an “Out of Order” sign on the ATM. When people come to deposit money, he apologizes for the inconvenience and accepts their cash, giving them receipts for the amounts they have deposited. At the end of the day, he has a great deal of cash.
Now with plenty of funds, Wednesday and Shadow drive toward a roadside attraction called the House on the Rock. On the way, Wednesday explains that roadside attractions are “places of power.” In other countries, over centuries, people built temples and monuments on such places. But in America, people build giant balls of aluminum foil and whatnot. Then tourists come—but instead of finding something “truly transcendent” as they would elsewhere in the world, these tourists “walk around feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
The House on the Rock turns out to be a huge maze of a building full of strange junk. Shadow buys his fortune from a mechanical gypsy:
EVERY ENDING IS A NEW BEGINNING
YOUR LUCKY NUMBER IS NONE
YOUR LUCKY COLOR IS DEAD
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
He chats with several of the people who have come to meet Wednesday, including Czernobog and a tall black man with a moustache named Mr. Nancy. Both of these men have a bizarre worldview similar to Wednesday’s, and Shadow respects them on a level he doesn’t quite understand.
Eventually they come to the center of the maze, where they find the largest carousel in the world. In spite of the signs saying to keep off, they...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
In the place of the gods, Wednesday’s companions take on many forms. Mr. Nancy is still a black man with a moustache—but somehow, at the same time, he is also a man with three arms and a small brown spider. Shadow cannot work out how this is possible.
All of Wednesday’s companions look dramatically different now, and Wednesday himself is a larger, prouder, with one gleaming eye. He is accompanied by a wolf and two ravens. Shadow—though he struggles to believe what is happening—recognizes his employer as Odin, king of the gods in Norse mythology.
Only about ten gods have appeared at this meeting, and Wednesday is disappointed by the poor turnout. They look unenthusiastic, so Mr. Nancy warms up the audience with a story about himself as a small, brown spider. In it, he steals the testicles of a tiger and then tricks the tiger into believing that a monkey did it. At the end of the story, everyone is laughing.
After that, Wednesday calls the meeting to order. He says that, like the rest of the gods, he was brought to America by worshippers from the old world who ultimately forgot him. Like the rest of them, he is not worshipped by Americans, so he has to steal and cheat and live on the fringes. But he has always been able to “get by” in the “new land without gods”—and he used to hope he could do so forever.
However, Wednesday says that he and the other gods are in danger: “There’s a storm coming, and it’s not a storm of our making.” The Americans are creating new gods, “gods of credit card and freeway, Internet and telephone….” According to Wednesday, the new gods are determined to destroy the old ones, and the old ones need to make a stand.
Nobody seems impressed by Wednesday’s speech, and an old lady called Mama-ji calls it “nonsense.” She says new gods rise and fall all the time without hurting the old ones. She advises everyone to “do nothing” and wait for the storm to pass.
Eventually they all return to the House on the Rock, and Shadow gives several gods a ride to a restaurant where Wednesday is hosting a dinner. He drops the gods off before he parks, but he never makes it inside. In the parking lot, somebody grabs him and knocks him out.
When Shadow awakes, he finds himself in a strange room without his wallet or keys. He still has his coins, so he does some tricks. He...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Shadow walks south for hours in the cold and snow. He hides from cars and helicopters because he worries he might be pursued for the murders of the men who attacked him. He feels numb, not only because of the freezing weather, but also because of the strange, upsetting experiences he has been having. He struggles to figure out what he wants from life, but all he can think is that he wishes “for none of this ever to have happened.” If he could, he would go back to life before prison, when Laura was alive and things were simple.
After a long time, Shadow comes upon the corpse of a dead deer being eaten by a raven. “You shadow man,” the raven says. Shadow knows that the god Odin used ravens as messengers in Norse mythology, so he guesses Wednesday sent the bird. The raven tells him to make his way to Cairo, Mississippi and find Jackal.
Shadow walks to a tiny town, where he asks if he can rent a car. The town is far too small to have a rental business, but after asking around, Shadow finds a man who sells beat-up used cars. Shadow buys one and sets out driving, wending his way through small towns, avoiding freeways because he thinks Wednesday’s enemies might sense him there.
When Shadow gets tired, he stops to take a nap and dreams of the man with the buffalo head. He asks if all these gods really exist. “What are gods?” the buffalo-headed man asks.
A knock on the car window awakens Shadow. The knocker is a college girl named Samantha Black Crow, or Sam for short. She is hitchhiking in the direction he is traveling, so he lets her ride with him as he continues his journey.
Sam is a sweet girl and an experienced hitchhiker. She has little trouble accepting the news that Shadow spent time in prison, but gets upset when he guesses exactly what she is studying at school. (He does not know how he does this and writes it off as a coincidence.) All things considered however, the two of them get along well. Shadow mentions his wife’s death, and Sam mentions that her half-sister’s son Sandy disappeared a while back, most likely kidnapped by his deadbeat dad.
During the drive, Shadow talks quite a bit about mythology. Sam says that ancient people wrote myths to explain hallucinations. Shadow counters with his own theory “that back then people used to run into the gods from time to...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Shadow goes out to eat with Mr. Ibis, who says that he and Jacquel have been in America for over three thousand years. They were brought by a trading expedition from Ancient Egypt. Shadow is skeptical, but Mr. Ibis says that people have been coming to America forever, from every culture. Scientists can’t piece it together because they don’t allow for the possibility that the impossible could be true.
Mr. Ibis takes Shadow to his house, which turns out to be a funeral home. There, Shadow meets Jacquel in human form. He is in the process of embalming the dead body of a teenage girl. As he works, he eats small slices of her heart, liver, and kidneys, but Shadow is not disgusted or afraid:
Somehow it seemed to Shadow a good thing for [Jacquel] to do: respectful, not obscene.
Mr. Ibis says that Shadow can stay with them as long as he likes, if he does not mind sharing a house with dead bodies. Shadow says he does not mind, but he adds, “Not as long as they stay dead, anyhow.” This statement seems to interest Jacquel and Mr. Ibis, who claim that the dead do not come back to life easily.
Shadow offers to help out at the funeral home while he stays there. He does much of the heavy lifting, reflecting as he does so that he was not always big and strong. He was small and bookish when he was a child. He and his mother moved a lot, and he hated being the new kid everywhere he went. Only as a teenager, after he had a growth spurt, did he succeed socially. After he got big, people expected him to be dumb, but he didn’t mind. It was better than being a loner.
As Shadow works, Jacquel talks a great deal about the gods. He calls Jesus “one lucky son of a virgin." After a moment's reflection, he adds that Jesus doesn’t do too well in Afghanistan. “It all depends on where you are,” he says. He does not seem angry about this, but he seems regretful that some of his fellow Egyptian gods have disappeared or settled into reduced existences. One god, Horus, lives all the time in the form of a hawk.
That night, while Shadow shaves, he considers slitting his own throat to end this strange, difficult life he is living. While he considers this, the cat comes into the bathroom—which surprises him because he is pretty sure he shut the door. Later, the cat appears in his bedroom, and this time he is positive...
(The entire section is 726 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Shadow and Wednesday drive to Wisconsin. On the way, Shadow asks who the people were who kidnapped him. Wednesday shrugs and says they were “spooks” for the bad guys. Shadow observes that they seemed to think they were the good guys, and Wednesday agrees. Wars, he says, are always fought between people who think they are in the right.
Eventually they stop for dinner, and Wednesday tells Shadow stories about some cons he used to play to make money. Shadow notices that they are all two-man cons and asks if Wednesday used to have a partner. Wednesday says yes, and he seems regretful.
During the meal, Wednesday tries to seduce the waitress, who looks barely eighteen. When she agrees tentatively to meet him after her shift, he tells Shadow that they need to split up for a while. Shadow tries to talk Wednesday out of meeting the girl, but Wednesday brushes off all objections: he says he cannot get along without the occasional sacrifice of virginity.
Shadow boards a bus to Lakeside, where Wednesday has readied an apartment for him. Wednesday explains that Shadow needs to lie low and keep out of sight until the incident with the kidnapping blows over. While in Lakeside, Shadow is supposed to go by the name of Mike Ainsel.
On the bus, Shadow falls asleep and dreams of the buffalo-headed man. “This is not a land for gods…This is a land of dreams and fire,” the man says. Shadow can make nothing of this, so he changes the subject to Laura and asks for help bringing her back to life. The buffalo-headed man demands a bargain, and Shadow, who has nothing else to offer, offers himself. After that, rocks and dirt pile painfully on top of him, and he screams. As he screams, he hears a prophecy that the gods will soon be gone, and only the heroes will remain.
Shadow wakes up when the bus stops for a break. He chats with the driver, who seems pleased when Shadow says he is going to Lakeside. “Heck, that’s a good town,” the driver says.
For the rest of the ride, Shadow stays awake eavesdropping on two young girls sitting ahead of him. One talks constantly about animals, and the other talks constantly about sex. The back-and-forth of their conversation amuses Shadow as he listens, and he finds himself feeling protective of the animal-loving girl—a cute kid with blue rubber bands on her braces.
The girls get off the...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
That night, Shadow dreams he is a child kept underground in the dark. When he is finally brought out into the light, he does not know what a knife is. He laughs at the glint of light on it. Then it cuts him open—a human sacrifice.
In the morning, it is terribly cold. Shadow has no winter clothes, no food in the house, and no car. He begins the walk into town to buy clothes and food—but he soon realizes the temperature is dangerously low. He grows so cold he is not sure he can make it all the way to town—or back to the apartment, either.
A police officer, Chad Mulligan, sees Shadow on the road and picks him up. Mulligan lets Shadow warm up in his car and then takes him to a restaurant for breakfast. When Shadow asks if Mulligan needs to be out catching criminals, the police officer says, “It’s is a good town.” He explains that there are very few crimes in Lakeside, so he can afford to indulge his whim to help out a newcomer. Shadow suspects that Mulligan also wants to size him up.
With Mulligan and everyone else Shadow meets, he pretends to be a young man named Mike Ainsel. Sticking to the story he set up with Wednesday, Shadow claims he works for his uncle and travels a lot. He finds it easy to lie about his identity, and he wishes the lies were true:
Mike Ainsel had none of the problems Shadow had. Ainsel had never been married. Mike Ainsel had never been interrogated…by Mr. Wood and Mr. Stone. Televisions did not speak to Mike Ainsel.
After breakfast, Shadow buys warm clothes, food, and a used SUV that he gets cheap because the owners’ son painted it an ugly shade of purple. The woman who sells it, Missy Gunther, gives Shadow a silly little fake passport that declares him a citizen of Lakeside. Shadow finds himself agreeing with everyone else’s assessment that Lakeside is “a good town.”
Later, Shadow gets a visit from Hinzelmann, who tells a few tall tales about life in Lakeside long ago. During his visit, he makes an offhand mention of “a winter runaway.” At Shadow’s question, Hinzelmann explains that kids occasionally get sick of Wisconsin winters and disappear—presumably to seek a warmer climate. This seems to happen every year.
A few days later, when Shadow is settled in, Wednesday arrives and takes him to Vegas. There, they meet a man who wears a dark suit and whose name and face Shadow can never...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
A few days after his trip, Shadow visits Hinzelmann’s store. Every year, he parks an old car on the frozen lake. When the ice begins to melt, the car breaks through and sinks. People make bets about when this will happen, and they buy raffle tickets from Hinzelmann—each ticket tied to a five-minute window of time when the car might fall through the ice. Whoever guesses the closest time wins some money.
Shadow buys raffle tickets for a thirty-minute time window on a morning in March, and afterward, he tells the lake to melt that day, the same way he once told the sky to bring snow. But he doesn’t really believe it will work.
After chatting with Hinzelmann, Shadow goes to the library to look up eagle stones and thunderbirds. There he learns that Native Americans believed thunderbirds were giant birds that caused thunder and lightning. This is all he can find on the subject.
The library is holding a book sale to raise money, so Shadow buys a couple of books. The only one he wants is Herodotus’s Histories, which he has read before, but the sale allows him to take two books for the price of one. He grabs the one book he thinks other people are least likely to want—a record of Lakeside City Council meetings from the 1800s.
In the library, Shadow sees his next-door neighbor, Marguerite Olsen. He has met her before, and she reminds him of someone—but he can’t think who. He asks the police chief, Chad Mulligan, about her. Mulligan tells a sad story about Marguerite’s failed marriage. Some time after she and her husband divorced, her son Sandy disappeared. Everyone thinks the father kidnapped him, but nobody can prove it. Marguerite has been sad ever since. As Mulligan tells this story, Shadow begins to suspect that Mulligan is in love with Marguerite.
That afternoon, Shadow falls asleep and dreams about a tower of skulls, which he climbs toward a flock of enormous, circling birds. This dream is interrupted by Wednesday, who calls and demands to know what Shadow is doing. Shadow stammers about the dream, and Wednesday says:
I know what you were dreaming. Everybody damn well knows what you were dreaming…What’s the point in hiding you, if you’re going to start to...advertise?
Shadow has no idea what this means, but he agrees to go to San Francisco with Wednesday tomorrow....
(The entire section is 652 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Shadow and Wednesday take a three-day drive to the Dakotas in a Winnebago that smells like cat. Everything goes fine until they come upon a roadblock set up to stop them. A car is behind them, in pursuit, so there is nowhere else for them to go.
Wednesday pulls a chalk-like object out of his pocket and writes something in strange runes on the dashboard of the Winnebago. Then he tells Shadow to drive off-road, and Shadow obeys. The Winnebago lurches out of the snowy day and into a strange, starry, nighttime place.
When Shadow takes this change calmly, Wednesday seems flustered. “Why don’t you exclaim that it’s all impossible?” he asks. Shadow thinks this over and says that nothing has really surprised him since he learned his wife was cheating on him with his best friend. Everything else seems unimportant by comparison.
The two men set out walking through the starry place. Wednesday calls the place “backstage,” but this doesn’t explain anything. Briefly, Shadow sees into the mind of one of his enemies, Mr. Wood. Afterward, Shadow feels ill, and he throws up. Wednesday gives him a sip of an unfamiliar drink from a flask and tells him to speed up. “It’s not good for the audience to find themselves walking around backstage,” he says.
When Wednesday leads them back to the ordinary world, they are no longer on the road. They are on a reservation, at the home of a man called Whiskey Jack (or maybe Wisakedjak). They eat a meal with him and with a guest, Johnny Appleseed.
Whiskey Jack, who seems to regard Wednesday as an intruder into America, refuses to play a role in the upcoming war. He pays more attention to Shadow and asks about the dream of the thunderbirds. Shadow reflects that Wednesday was right: people did know what he dreamed that night. He admits that Laura wants him to bring her back from the dead, and Whiskey Jack tells a story about the fox and the wolf, who agreed that all living creatures must die. After the story, he advises Shadow not to fight death—but he also explains where to find real thunderbirds, and he repeats the buffalo-headed man’s advice “to believe.”
After this conversation, Johnny Appleseed complains about Paul Bunyan. He considers Paul Bunyan stupid because advertising companies made him up, and nobody ever believed in him. This comment makes Wednesday sulky, and later he implies...
(The entire section is 864 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
One morning, Marguerite Olsen knocks on Shadow’s door and invites him to dinner. She does not smile during the conversation, and she emphasizes that “this is a social gesture, not a romantic one,” but Shadow is excited anyway. He has not been invited to a normal social event since before he went to prison.
That afternoon, Wednesday calls to say he is about to attend a meeting with the new gods, who are calling for a treaty. He sounds nervous, and he suggests that he may be killed. Shadow reflects aloud that the pain of death might not hurt a god, but Wednesday dismisses this:
If you move and act in the material world, then the material world acts on you. Pain hurts . . . We may not die easy and we sure as hell don’t die well, but we can die.
That night, when Shadow arrives at Marguerite's apartment, he is shocked to see Sam—the hitchhiker he met on the road back in Chapter 7. Not knowing what else to do, he introduces himself as Mike Ainsel. She pretends she has never met him before, but after dinner she tells him to take her to the bar for a drink.
In Shadow’s car, Sam explains that men in black suits questioned her about him, and she demands to know if he really committed two murders. He says no but adds that she would not believe the real story. She replies that she is capable of believing all sorts of things:
I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.
She follows this statement with a long list of contradictory or impossible things she believes. When she finishes, Shadow gives up and tells her that his dead wife killed the two men, but only to save him after they kidnapped him. He also explains that he is mixed up with a bunch of old gods and new gods that are involved in a war.
Sam gets hung up on the idea of gods having a war. “It seems kind of redundant,” she says. “What is there to win?” Still, she seems to accept that Shadow is not a murderer, and she says he can buy her a drink.
But at the bar, Shadow sees another woman he knows: Audrey Burton, the former best friend of Shadow’s wife, Laura. When Audrey sees Shadow, she screams and says the FBI is investigating him for murder. Apparently she, too, was...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Czernobog and Mr. Nancy drive all night, with Shadow in the back of the car, putting distance between themselves and Lakeside. In the morning, they stop and speak to someone who calls himself Alviss, son of Vindalf. Alviss tells Czernobog and Mr. Nancy that he and his fellow dwarves are now willing to fight. None of them took Wednesday seriously before, but they never believed the new gods would kill Odin himself.
Shadow, Czernobog, and Mr. Nancy continue on, driving south. When they stop for burgers and fries, an unidentified person calls the restaurant’s pay phone and offers to give them Wednesday’s body. The speaker offers a truce for the occasion, but Shadow and his friends are suspicious. The speaker is, after all, one of same people who promised Wednesday peace and then shot him in the head.
But this time, the new gods offer to meet at the most unholy place on the continent: the geographic center of America. This is a place so unsacred that gods have practically no power there. Because of this, there is no risk anyone will break the truce.
When Shadow, Czernobog, and Mr. Nancy arrive at the disused hotel that celebrates the center of America, they are greeted by two of the new gods: a woman named Media and the fat technical kid from the limo. Mr. Town, one of those government men in black suits, and a limo driver, who looks vaguely familiar to Shadow, are also there.
After a brief nap and a strange dream about bloody sacrifices to Odin, Shadow eats dinner with the gods: McDonald's hamburgers and fries. The others tell him the handoff of Wednesday’s body cannot happen until midnight, so Shadow returns to his room. He tries to rest, but he keeps getting interrupted by gods, who are nervous because the center of America feels so “creepy” to them.
Eventually Shadow wanders outside to chat with the new gods’ limo driver. This time Shadow recognizes the man as Low Key Lyesmith, his old cellmate from prison. Now that he knows gods are alive, he understands his old cellmate’s name: Low Key is really Loki Lie-Smith, the Norse god of chaos. Shadow asks why an old god like him would help the new guys, and Loki says he is having fun.
At midnight, the gods meet at a candlelit ceremony to hand over Wednesday’s body. Shadow carries Wednesday to their car, and they all drive to the place...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
On Shadow’s first day hanging in the tree, he feels very uncomfortable. After that, he feels worse. His whole body hurts. He hallucinates flashes of color, and he dreams about a man with an elephant head who hides a mouse in his trunk. “In the trunk,” the elephant man says. He urges Shadow to remember this detail.
After a while, a thunderstorm comes, and rain falls hard on Shadow’s naked body. He is terribly thirsty, so he opens his mouth and lets the storm wet his lips and tongue. He catches some water in the cup of his collarbone and slurps as much as he can. As lightning crashes overhead, he feels giddy with life—more alive than he has ever felt before.
But as the hours pass, Shadow’s joy fades. He struggles against his ropes, but they do not give. He exhausts himself trying to get free. The pain in his whole body grows worse, and he feels alternately far too hot and far too cold. He hallucinates that Laura is comforting him, but he knows she is not really there because she looks alive and whole. At one point, he receives a strange gift—water, brought to him in a walnut shell by a squirrel.
Every now and then, Shadow’s mind grows lucid. Once, he looks up in the tree and sees a man sitting there, naked, like a hawk. Once, long ago, he heard Mr. Ibis and Jacquel mention a god named Horus who spends almost all his time in hawk form. He guesses, correctly, that he is seeing Horus now. He tries to talk a little, but the god seems insane. Horus catches a squirrel and eats it raw. Then he transforms himself back into a hawk and flies away. Just before he goes, he comments that Shadow is dying.
Shadow’s next visitor is Laura. This time, she is not a hallucination but the reanimated dead body of his actual wife. She has decayed quite a bit since he last saw her, and as they talk, she coughs up squirming things from her lungs. She keeps saying she is thirsty, so he tells her to ask for water from the strange women who hung him in the tree.
Soon Shadow falls asleep, and when he wakes up, Laura is gone. He has the worst headache he has ever had. It pounds inside his brain, and he cannot stand the feeling. Eventually he loses consciousness again, and this time he does not wake up.
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
When Shadow wakes up again, he is dressed but barefoot, standing at the top of a stone staircase. Zorya Polunochnaya appears and asks him to show her the silver dollar she gave him. He hands it to her, and she says that it has brought him out of imprisonment twice (once when he was kidnapped by the men in black suits and once, more recently, when he was arrested for breaking parole). Now, she adds, it will light his way into the dark. She lets it float into the air above his head, where it hangs, looking like the moon.
Zorya Polunochnaya offers Shadow two paths. One holds the painful truth, and the other holds comforting lies. Shadow chooses truth, and this seems to make her sad. She says he has to pay his way by giving up his real name. She reaches into his head and pulls out a flame-like thing that used to be his name.
After that, Shadow walks on alone. He sees himself learning of Laura’s death and then, before that, committing the assaults that got him sent to prison. Next, he sees himself as a teenager, sitting beside his mother while she dies. He sees himself as a child, fighting with his mother, who refuses to tell him the identity of his father. Last, he sees his mother and father together—and he is not terribly surprised to learn that his father is Wednesday.
At the end of this path, Shadow meets a woman with honey-colored hair and vertical slits for eyes. She purrs hello, and he realizes she is the human form of the cat he met back at Mr. Ibis’s funeral home. She offers him three paths: the path of wisdom, the path of wholeness, or the path of death. He does not know which to choose, so she suggests the middle way. As Shadow steps forward, he sees that one way is full of old, forgotten gods, and another is brightly lit and full of kitschy modern conveniences. He walks on between those two extremes, reasoning that now it is time for him to find his own way. Before he goes, the cat goddess—whose name is Bast—takes the glowing heart from his chest.
Shadow walks until he comes to a river. There he meets an Egyptian god with a bird head, Mr. Ibis, who explains that he has come to take Shadow to the world of the dead. Shadow is surprised because he never believed in the Egyptian gods, but Mr. Ibis says this does not matter. He adds that life and death are not “two mutually exclusive categories.” But he advises Shadow to be afraid—and...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
From all around, gods arrive at “the most important place in the Southwestern United States.” This place is called Rock City, a roadside attraction that was once a holy site for the Cherokee Indians. The site is on a tall hill, and the Cherokee believed that any battling force that held that hill would win a war. This held true for them until the United States took it over and forced them away. It held true for the Union forces in the Civil War. Now, perhaps, it will also hold true for the battle between the old and new gods.
Gods arrive from everywhere, on foot and in every kind of vehicle. The old gods wear strange clothes, and the new gods look “artificial.” The ordinary tourists that flock to Rock City fail to notice any of them—even though many are carrying large weapons.
Back at the tree where Shadow is holding Wednesday’s vigil, Laura is thirsty. She walks to a nearby farmhouse and finds the three women who tied Shadow up. She says Shadow wants them to give her water. The smallest of the women fetches a clay jug of clear water, which Laura picks up and drinks dry. It tastes wonderful, and when she is finished, she collapses writhing on the floor while her body expels all the rot and maggots it has recently collected. Soon she looks perfect—almost alive.
Meanwhile, Mr. Town approaches Shadow’s tree. He is annoyed because Mr. World has sent him to cut a small stick from the tree, and he thinks this is a stupid job. Mr. Town does not particularly want to see Wednesday’s body again, and he certainly does not want to see Shadow, whom Mr. Town blames for the deaths of Mr. Stone and Mr. Wood.
Still, Mr. Town follows orders. He finds the tree and cuts the stick he needs, wishing as he does so that he could kill Shadow in his helpless state. Mr. Town does not do this, but he does jab at Shadow with the stick—a fake spear-thrust that begins to bleed as soon as Mr. Town is gone.
Mr. Town gets lost on his way back to the highway, but eventually he meets Laura walking along the road. He stops to ask her for directions, and she agrees to help if he will give her a ride. He gladly accepts, privately reflecting that he is lucky to pick up such a beautiful hitchhiker.
As all this is happening, the crowd continues to gather at Rock City. Easter is...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Chapter 18 begins in the voice of the narrator, who comments, “None of this can actually be happening.” He suggests that it may be more “comfortable” for readers to think of the story “as a metaphor.” After all, that is all religion is in the first place.
The story resumes with Shadow suspended in a place of nothingness. “Even Nothing cannot last forever,” the narrator says. Whiskey Jack appears amid the nothingness and says Shadow was hard to find. “You didn’t go to any of the places I figured,” he says. He adds that Shadow will not be staying dead: “They are coming for you.”
Shadow protests that he wants to be done with life and everything, but he finds himself at Whiskey Jack’s house. It is now in a different place than it was before. Whiskey Jack comments that his nephew died, which seems to mean that nobody really believes in him anymore. Shadow asks if Whiskey Jack is a god, and Whiskey Jack says he is “a culture hero.” He explains that Native Americans have long understood that gods do not do well in America, so their heroes are not really worshipped.
While chatting with Whiskey Jack, Shadow puts together the pieces and realizes what is going on back at Rock City: Loki and Odin have constructed an enormous two-man con. They have tricked both sides into fighting so they can use the bloodbath to strengthen themselves. Just after he realizes this, Shadow feels Easter calling him back to life.
Shadow takes a long time to return to life. He just walks around blankly, like a toddler unable to make sense of what he sees. Easter knows that the gods at Rock City are beginning to kill each other and that Shadow is the only person who can stop them. But she has brought people back to life before, and she knows there is no way to rush the process.
When Shadow is ready, Easter offers to send him to the battle. He can take the same vehicle she used—a thunderbird. Shadow accepts Easter’s offer and climbs onto the back of the bird. It is huge, similar to a condor except bigger. Riding it feels “exactly like riding the lightning.”
Meanwhile, Laura and Mr. Town arrive at Rock City. She has long since realized who he is, and she can dimly sense the con that is taking place. She snaps Mr. Town’s neck and takes the stick to Loki...
(The entire section is 994 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Shadow drives Mr. Nancy home to Florida. On the way, Shadow observes that Mr. Nancy looks gray-faced and sick. But no matter what Shadow says, the old god insists that he is not wounded and nothing is wrong. They chat about life, and Mr. Nancy asks if Shadow has learned anything from his experience. After musing on this question for a moment, Shadow replies:
It’s like one of those dreams that changes you. You keep some of the dream forever, and you know things down deep inside yourself, because it happened to you, but when you go looking for details they just kind of slip out of your head.
At Mr. Nancy’s house, Shadow feels inclined to leave the old god alone. But Mr. Nancy insists that Shadow accompany him to a corner bar for just one beer. At the bar, when Mr. Nancy says he will buy the first round, Shadow reminds him that they are having just one drink. “What are you . . . some kind of cheapskate?” Mr. Nancy asks.
Soon both Shadow and Mr. Nancy are drunk, and Mr. Nancy is singing karaoke. He has a good voice, and the small crowd cheers him on. After that, Mr. Nancy regains his healthy look. He pushes Shadow up in front of the audience to sing, too. Shadow resists but ends up singing and having a good time. He sings all the way home, where he passes out on Mr. Nancy’s couch.
That night, Shadow dreams of the buffalo-headed man, who congratulates him on making peace. He says of all the gods, old and new:
They never understood that they were here—and the people who worshipped them were here—because it suits us that they are here. But we can change our minds. And perhaps we will.
Shadow does not understand this, and he admits that he always thought the buffalo-headed man might be a god. The man laughs at this. “I am the land,” he says.
In the morning, Mr. Nancy gives Shadow an excellent breakfast and a handful of aspirin for his hangover. All morning, Shadow tries to remember one moment from his experience on the tree—something he was told not to forget. After a long time, he remembers the god with the elephant head telling him something was hidden in the trunk. When Shadow was hanging on the...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
When Shadow arrives in Lakeside—a town he never intended to visit again—he sees the old clunker car still sitting on the ice. But the ice is beginning to melt, and there are pools of water on the surface. Thin Ice signs warn pedestrians not to walk out on the lake, but Shadow does exactly that. He has to know the truth.
After a struggle, Shadow manages to break into the car’s trunk. There he finds what he guessed he would find: the dead body of Alison McGovern, the girl who went missing in the middle of the winter. Shadow thinks of the stories of the other children who were lost. On some deep level, he knows that one child has died this way in Lakeside every year since the town's beginnings.
Shadow tries to get Alison out of the car, but as he leans down, the extra weight on the car's wheels breaks the ice. He and the car fall through together. His coat gets caught, and he gets pulled down to the bottom. He struggles, pulls off his coat, and pushes toward the surface—but he comes up against solid ice. He struggles and flails, looking for the hole the car fell through, but he feels his strength and will slipping away.
At the last moment, a hand reaches Shadow’s hand. By now he is exhausted from the cold, and he only wants to sleep. He feels annoyed at his rescuer for disturbing him, but the person drags him over the ice, refusing to leave him.
Some time later, Shadow awakes in a hot bathtub. His rescuer turns out to be Hinzelmann, who waits for Shadow to warm up and then helps him out to the living room. There, Shadow asks why Wednesday chose Lakeside, of all places, as a hiding place. Hinzelmann evades the question, but Shadow has already figured out the answer: Hinzelmann is a god, and he kept Shadow hidden. Shadow also guesses that Hinzelmann killed all those children, and Hinzelmann does not deny it. He explains that it is a trade. He protects the town, keeps out problems, and makes it a good place. In return, he takes one child every year.
During this conversation, Shadow glimpses who Hinzelmann really is. Long ago, he was a small child who was kept in the dark and cold. At the age of five, he was brought out into the light and killed. Afterward, the tribe that killed him kept his body, worshipped it, and relied on it for protection.
Ultimately, this conversation is...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
For a long time after his adventure with the gods, Shadow travels the world. At one point, he visits Reykjavik, in Iceland, where he simply wanders and watches the people. The women there are pale and pretty—the kinds of girls Wednesday would have liked.
One day, Shadow eats a meal in a restaurant, where a waiter asks if he is American. When Shadow says yes, the waiter wishes him a happy Fourth of July. At this stage in his travels, Shadow has forgotten the date, so he is surprised to learn that it is Independence Day. He thanks the waiter and reflects idly that independence is a good thing.
After his meal, Shadow walks around and sits down in a nice spot in some grass. He wonders whether he will ever go home. This seems like a difficult question because he is no longer sure what home is now that Laura is gone. It seems to him that his next home may be something that happens to him, not someplace he goes back to.
While Shadow is thinking, an old man sits down next to him. The man claims to know Shadow, and though he does not say who he is exactly, Shadow figures it out quickly: “You are Odin,” he says. The god nods, but he adds that he is not Wednesday. He is the version of Odin that stayed in Iceland with the people who believed in him there.
The man asks Shadow if he will go back to America, and Shadow says he has no reason to. But as soon as he says it, he realizes he does have reasons to go, and he will do so eventually.
Shadow has been carrying Wednesday’s glass eye since Wednesday’s death. He gives it to Odin, producing it the way he would produce a coin in a trick. Odin laughs, both at the gift and at Shadow’s way of giving it. He promises to take care of the glass eye.
Odin loves tricks, so he demands another one from Shadow. Shadow is frustrated: “You people . . . You’re never satisfied,” he says. He thinks back to the coin trick Mad Sweeney taught him long ago. Carefully, Shadow pushes his hand into nowhere and takes out a gold coin. He takes a normal one, not a special coin that can bring the dead back to life. He says it is the last trick he will do for Odin. Then he tosses the coin in the air. As American Gods ends, Shadow walks away, not bothering to wait and see whether the coin falls back down again.
(The entire section is 438 words.)