American Gods Summary
by Neil Gaiman

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American Gods Summary

The novel American Gods consists primarily of a linear narrative, though this narrative is occasionally interrupted by short segments called "Coming to America," which chronicle the lives of various people as they make their way to the Americas for the first time. These segments spans from the first Vikings, who were given a hostile welcome, to two African twins who were brought aboard a slave ship, all the way back to the first Americans, nomads who crossed the land bridge from Siberia.

The primary narrative opens with Shadow Moon, who is in prison for unspecified reasons, with less than a week left on his sentence. He has kept his head down during his sentence and made the acquaintance of a fellow convict called "Low-Key" Lyesmith, who has taught him much about prison life and Low-Key's personal philosophy. During his time in prison, Shadow has made it his hobby to practice coin tricks.

Shadow feels uneasy when he is called into the warden's office, and his fears are well founded. He is given the news that he is being released early—immediately, in fact—because his wife, Laura, has died in a car accident. Shadow accepts this news in a state of shock and begins making his way home to Eagle Point, Indiana, for the funeral.

On the plane ride, through a seating mix-up, Shadow is mistakenly seated in first class next to a man he previously saw conning his way into first class himself. The man introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday and claims that he has a job for Shadow, as a bodyguard. Mr. Wednesday knows an uncanny amount about Shadow and seems to know even more than he lets on. Unnerved and annoyed after the plane ride, Shadow rents a car and begins to drive the rest of the way home.

Stopping by a roadside pub for dinner, Shadow once again runs into Mr. Wednesday, this time accompanied by Mad Sweeney, a man who claims to be a leprechaun. Worn down, Shadow accepts Mr. Wednesday's job and seals the pact by drinking mead, thereby agreeing to become Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard and hold vigil in case of his death. Mad Sweeney performs an impossible coin trick, and Shadow implores the man to teach him how to do it. Mad Sweeney agrees to do so if Shadow can beat him in a fight, and the two engage in a bloody brawl. When Shadow wakes, bloodied and hungover, he remembers little but finds one of Mad Sweeney's gold coins in his pocket.

Mr. Wednesday agrees to let Shadow mourn the loss of his wife before starting work. At the funeral, Shadow learns from Laura's friend Audrey that Laura was having an affair with Audrey's husband—the two only died because Laura was performing oral sex on Audrey's husband while he was driving. Shadow, stunned and hurt, tries simply to forgive Laura and tosses Mad Sweeney's coin into her grave.

On his way home, Shadow is abducted by a young man called Technical Boy, who calls himself a "new god." He tells Shadow that he knows Shadow is working for the "old gods" and to tell them that the old gods' time is over.

Shadow and Mr. Wednesday stay with Mr. Wednesday's acquaintance Czernobog and Czernobog's three sisters in Chicago, and Mr. Wednesday tries to convince Shadow to join them in a mysterious struggle. Later that night, Shadow is granted the protection of the moon through a coin that the youngest sister plucks from the sky.

Shadow's first job for Mr. Wednesday is to help him rob a bank. They carry out a two-man con in which Mr. Wednesday fakes being a bank employee, honoring transactions in the place of a broken ATM. It is the first time that Shadow sees hints of Mr. Wednesday's supernatural power, as the man seems to cause it to snow.

The two then drive to the House on the Rock, a place that Mr. Wednesday claims has enormous spiritual power in America. After a bizarre scene in which a number of eccentric men and women board a carousel, they are all transported to an ancient dining hall, where each of these strange characters is revealed to be an "old god" of an ancient culture, Wednesday himself being the Norse god...

(The entire section is 1,733 words.)