Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 19

In the nineteenth chapter of American Gods, Mr. Nancy helps Shadow begin to pick up the pieces of his life, or at least what remains of it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

I want Mr. Nancy in my life.

There’s nothing that hints at a romance of any sort, but the way that Mr. Nancy and Shadow interact with one another in chapter nineteen is romantic. And I know it’s weird to say that because that word might have this weird, lovey-dovey, sexual connotation, but there’s this sense of respect and appreciation between these two after this experience that I can’t ignore. I know that the experience is part of that. These two have gone through something both traumatic and insightful, and they came out of it together.

For an epilogue, this all feels remarkably natural. I hadn’t really thought about it post-chapter eighteen, but there still is a lot that hasn’t been addressed in the novel, and the last chapter feels like a proper end to this all. Is this the most sensible epilogue ever? PROBABLY.

“Are you happy?” asked Mr. Nancy suddenly. He had been staring at Shadow for several hours. Whenever Shadow glanced over to his right, Mr. Nancy was looking at him with his earth-brown eyes.

“Not really,” said Shadow. “But I’m not dead yet.”

It occurred to me that Mr. Nancy’s concern stemmed from the fact that he knows Shadow just went through an impossible situation. He died. Completely died. He was brought back to life so he could stop a war. That his father started. As a con. And he killed his wife. Sort of. Okay, that’s a whole lot to deal with, and we’re not even talking about the surreal nature of this all.

For Shadow, he describes the experience like a dream that you can only vaguely recall, and I think that’s a fascinating way to describe the events of American Gods. By nature of his humanity, he can’t really retain much of what he learned from the gods or of his time while dead, and this frustrates him. I like that Gaiman includes this. We learn from experience. (Well, at least I hope most of us do.) Shadow can’t learn much from his, or at least that’s what he thinks at the moment. Truthfully, I think we’ll be shown that he learned quite a bit, but he’s distracted by loss and overwhelmed by what has just happened.

So it’s interesting, then, to see Shadow return to his familiar patterns of silence and numbness. It’s not often that characters do this at the end of novels. I’m so used to characters changing in big, significant ways, but Shadow’s betrayal has turned him right back into the person he started off as in the beginning of American Gods. He’s quiet and I genuinely believe he did not say a single word for the entire journey through the state of Florida, choosing to keep to himself and whatever thoughts he had. Also he probably did that out of boredom because holy shit, your state is so flat, Florida. I’M SO USED TO HILLS THIS SCARES ME. Also, completely unrelated, the first time I went to Florida, I tried to describe my hotel’s location as “right next to a big lake” and I was laughed off the phone because I’m a fool.

Shadow arrives in Fort Pierce, Florida, to drop Mr. Nancy off at a small house he owns there, and Mr. Nancy basically bullies Shadow into staying. I got the sense that Shadow just wanted to be away from all of this, and away from any god at this point. But he obliges, and I’m glad he does because we wouldn’t have gotten this:

The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.

Possibly one of the top ten sentences in the English language. I’ll fight for it.

The reluctant, shy, and unassuming Shadow returns, but what makes chapter nineteen so great is the way that Mr. Nancy is able to crack that shell of Shadow’s to get him back to feeling alive. I think that’s one of the most important themes of this novel: Shadow had never found a way to feel alive before. I don’t want to presume to know that endless rounds of drinks and karaoke is the answer to life, but perhaps it is. In this moment, Mr. Nancy’s insistent behavior gets Shadow to temporarily forget the trauma of war and enjoy what’s happening now. (I swear I don’t read Echkart Tolle.)

And he was still singing it as they walked home through the busy Florida night, the old man and the young, stumbling and happy.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good,” he sang to the crabs and the spiders and the palmetto beetles and the lizards and the night. “Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I JUST LOVE THIS A LOT, OKAY? I want Shadow to drunkenly sing to me and the lizards. is this too much to ask from life.

I found it beautiful that Shadow, who initially had no desire to even stay at Mr. Nancy’s, just passes out on the couch. He is beyond care at this point. Well…yes, he’s a bit drunk, too. But still! By then, I wanted an entire sitcom based on Shadow and Mr. Nancy going on adventures. Could you imagine the wacky time they would spend together???

I think we also see the final dream that Shadow has involving the buffalo-headed man. The entire time, I’ve obviously been unable to figure out who this is supposed to represent, or why they keep appearing to Shadow. This last time, the “god” thanks Shadow for what he has done, praising him for bringing peace.

“Are you a god?” asked Shadow.

The buffalo-headed man shook his head. Shadow thought, for a moment, that the creature was amused. “I am the land,” he said.

holy shit. Which means….oh my god, I need to re-read this entire book immediately. And that’s actually an intriguing idea: so much of this book is going to finally make sense on a second trip through because of the reveals at the end. I imagine that there are so many things hidden along the way, small details and hints, and that this is just one of a billion things that will blow me away. And I really do enjoy when fiction does that, whether it’s in a book or on a television show. It’s inherently rewarding to those who pay just a little bit more attention. It’s like finding extra gifts inside your Christmas presents!

But let’s move back to the beautiful relationship between Mr. Nancy and Shadow. The dude makes breakfast for his hungover friend. He already knows that Shadow will need breakfast. He anticipates his needs and look I’ll start shipping them if I have to. And look, this whole moment is topped with a cherry of perfection when Shadow thinks Mr. Nancy is getting him “an ancient African herbal remedy” that is “like aspirin,” and it turns out to be aspirin.

These two. Hang out forever.

But allow me to be serious for a moment. I was surprised initially that Shadow suddenly proclaimed that he missed Wednesday, but that feeling passed rather quickly. In a weird way, I missed him, too, and he provided an absurd sense of humor to what Shadow was going through. It’ll be interesting to see his character through a new lens now that I know who he really was, or what he really wanted to do.

I can only imagine what this feels like to an extent. I never met my biological father since I was born after he left my biological mother. I think if I met him, it would be similar to the experience of meeting my mother: this was someone I have never known my whole life. Obviously, Shadow’s situation breaks from my own drastically at this point, because he came to know his father over the course of a few months. But that has to be a weird sensation, to become friends with someone only to have them betray you, and then find out they’re your father. This is some The Empire Strikes Back bullshit, isn’t it?

But even in the final moments of this book, Gaiman isn’t going to ease us into the end of this story. When Shadow starts questioning Mr. Nancy about Ganesh, he has an epiphany: What that god told him when he was holding the vigil for Wednesday means something different than he thought at the time:

“It’s in the trunk,” said Shadow. He knew it was true. he did not know why it should be true, not quite. But of that he was completely certain.

He got to his feet. “I got to go,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Mr. Nancy raised an eyebrow. “Why the hurry?”

“Because,” said Shadow, “the ice is melting.”

oh. OH. Which means….

Oh, what the fuck. What is in the trunk of the car on the ice????

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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75 Responses to Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 19

  1. @sab39 says:

    I read the chapter last night (and what the fuck, who stole my copy of American Gods and replaced it with something with chapters that are SEVEN fucking PAGES long instead of, like, fifty?) but I just now about an hour ago figured out what's in the trunk. Oh my gods, I am still not prepared.

  2. Ryan Lohner says:

    The weird thing is, the original Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is a quite somber song. It was remade as a zesty Latin number that would probably fit the scene much better, but I don't think that had happened yet by the time the book was written (the remake is the score for the climactic duel in Kill Bill Volume 1).

    • @sab39 says:

      I heard a "zesty" version of Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood during my childhood (80s and 90s) sometime, so there was at least one prior upbeat version.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Let_Me_Be_Mi… says there was a disco/Latin version in 1977…

      • Ryan Lohner says:

        Okay, I'm an idiot. I just assumed it had been done for Kill Bill.

        • @sab39 says:

          Well, that version was the only version I knew and I wasn't aware of either the original OR the Animals version, so I still learned something because of your comment 🙂

          • cait0716 says:

            I had a cover of it when I was a kid that was done by a band who mostly did traditional Irish music. Their rendition was so slow and somber it made your heart break to listen to it. The cover they used for Kill Bill still sounds wrong to me because it's so much livelier than the version I grew up with

          • notemily says:

            I think the one I grew up hearing was the Animals version. I like the Santa Esmeralda version for sheer absurdity value though.

  3. Saphling says:

    This is one of my favorite chapters in the book. It has such a different feel to it. A sort of unreality after all the supernatural stuff.

    But… but… Mark. You think you need to reread the book now? So close to the end, and you're still not prepared, Mark. Never prepared.

  4. pennylane27 says:

    OH MY GOD MARK I'VE BEEN PUZZLING OVER THE ICE IS MELTING SINCE LAST NIGHT AND I ONLY JUST GOT IT I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE CAR OH MY GOD FREAKING OUT I LOVE YOOOUU

    Okay, calming down. I loved the phrase about ghosts of long-dead cookies. I'm with you, best sentence ever.

    I loved the quote from Mr. Ibis at the beginning: The most accurate map would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless. The tale is the map which is the territory. You must remember this. SO GOOD.

    • cait0716 says:

      I love that quote. And I love that it gets written back in chapter 11 and then Gaiman quotes himself in his own book. Not many people can get away with something like that.

      • clodia_risa says:

        In the beginning of Fragile Things, Gaiman presents a very short story that was supposed to go into American Gods (but he could never quite find the right spot for it) around that quote.

  5. cait0716 says:

    I love the misdirection of the trunk. It's like Gaiman was going, "hmm, I need to let him know that it's in the trunk of the car, but I can't make it too obvious. I know! I'll have an elephant tell him while he's tied to a tree!" And now you just get to wonder what it is. But there's no way you're prepared, Mark.

    If you want more Mr. Nancy, you should read Anansi Boys

    • @sab39 says:

      I knew it was going to refer to the trunk of a car (that wordplay is even more interesting since Gaiman is British and would have said "boot" instead in his natural language) but I hadn't figured out which car.

      • Saphling says:

        Mr. Gaiman (or his editors) did a very good job of catching most of the British words for things that Americans would call something else. The only ones that I noticed while reading that had been missed were "aquaplaning" instead of "hydroplaning," and he left off the word "it" at the end of a sentence that went something like "noun with noun in" (Ex. "coffee with milk in," "music with rocks in") where Americans (as far as I've experienced/heard) would be more likely to say "coffee with milk in it," or "a car with gas in it."

    • arctic_hare says:

      Perhaps he'll do it as the standalone he wants to do in between LOTR and Sandman.

    • notemily says:

      I know! I'll have an elephant tell him while he's tied to a tree!

      That way "trunk" has not one but TWO misleading meanings! I love it.

  6. @sab39 says:

    Does "obviously correct speculation that Mark hasn't figured out" count as spoilery? I'm honestly not sure… but it feels similar to letting on about Low Key/Loki if you figured it out before Mark did, or pointing out Mr World/Loki in the chapter where it was spelled out for us but Mark somehow managed to miss it 😉

    I haven't read the last chapter but I had the same idea as you and once you think it, it really is obvious, isn't it? So is it a spoiler or not to say it?

    • Saphling says:

      Spoiler Rule #6) Saying, hinting at, discussing, referring to, or ambiguously cluing me in to anything I have not read yet.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      Well, if its speculation on someone whose reading through the first time, everything is fine. At least, that's what I thought we tended to go for.

      ….I find comments like these seem more spoilery than the original, to be honest.

  7. @sab39 says:

    We're going back to Lakeside so hopefully if nothing else that means we get more Sam, right? Everything is better with more Sam.

  8. clodia_risa says:

    It’s in the trunk, Mark. Your eternal unpreparedness is in the trunk.

    I love the revelation of the identity of the buffalo-headed god. While I could have never guessed who he was, knowing it slid all of the other pieces of information into place and help to make it all makes sense. I felt a sense of satisfaction with his explanation.

    I concur, this book is worth a second, immediate, reread. (And a third in a year, and a fourth the year after that.)

  9. Ryan Lohner says:

    Thinking more about the buffalo man, it makes more and more sense. All American kids learn in school how the buffalo once covered the whole west half of the country, until their numbers were severely reduced by westen pioneers. They remain one of the classic cases of detrimental human impact on the environment, though thankfully they weren't wiped out and still remain populous in some areas (enough that local restaurants can serve buffalo meat without getting in trouble). So what else to represent the country itself?

  10. Elexus Calcearius says:

    I don't really see anything romantic between Nancy and Shadow, but they are awfully cute together. I'm just drawn to platonic friendships more than romances. But Mr. Nancy is so awesome, and I've really got to track down Anasai Boys.

    And yes….what's in the trunk? Its probably cookies and sunshine.

    • @sab39 says:

      Agreed on all points – although I'm not sure if there's some degree of heterosexual privilege going on, though, in that as a straight man I'm less likely to see romantic subtext in a same-sex pairing than in an opposite-sex one (also, I'm unclear on whether "sex" or "gender" is the right word to use in that sentence). I missed it with Salim and the Ifrit until he came out of the shower… but I think Mark missed that too if I remember his review right. So I don't know. I guess "I don't know" is generally the appropriate attitude to take in situations of ones own privilege, right?

      I'm still confused as to whether to feel like there's romantic subtext in Sam/Shadow at this point or not, actually. In one sense they seem perfect together – and she did kiss him – but is it necessary to force any opposite-sex pairing that has good chemistry into a romantic mold? Until now, it's been obvious that Shadow would not cheat on Laura (sorta-kinda-sleep-rape-by-friendly-Egyptian-cat-goddess notwithstanding). But now Laura is really gone, and I get the sense she would give her blessing readily for Shadow to move on, especially in light of her own acceptance and redemption from her own mistake. The narration style of Sam kissing Shadow seemed to explicitly disavow any romantic feelings on either side. So… should I be rooting for them in a shipping context or not?

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        Hmm. You could use the term gender, because I don't think gods have sex in the classical sense, but then they (mostly) capable of reproduction…

        For me, there might be some heteronormity going on….now that I think of it, the pairings I do actively ship are all maleXfemale (its SierraXVictor, AmyXRory and ZukoXMai, if anyone was wondering). I tend to be into more quiet, nurturing relationships, and I tend to stick to canon ones….so I think the disproportionate same-sex relationships in fiction, and especially the fact that they're not written in ways I personally find appealing might be part of it. Its weird though, because I'm sure there was one I really like, but its slipping my mind….

        I eventually settled for Shadow and Sam not to have one, but that was pretty ambiguous, I'll admit.

    • pica_scribit says:

      Well, that's what I keep in the trunk of my car….

    • MLeigh says:

      Get the audiobook of Anasi Boys. It adds SO MUCH to the experience.

  11. la.donna.pietra says:

    This is indeed an excellent book to re-read. Unfortunately, I've managed to lose at least four copies of this book to other people in the past decade, as I keep loaning it out and not getting it back. (It's a good metric for literary excellence.)

    • I've taken to writing my name in the front of my books when lending them to people. Which makes me uneasy because WRITING IN BOOKS?!?!? Feels wrong.

      • Leigh says:

        Writing in books is a wonderful thing that can enhance the whole experience and you can end up retaining and getting SO much more out of it than just breezing through, just make sure it's not a super-special and/or signed edition.

  12. Patrick721 says:

    Also he probably did that out of boredom because holy shit, your state is so flat, Florida. I’M SO USED TO HILLS THIS SCARES ME.

    Mark, we are like astral plane brothers or some shit. I lived in Colorado for most of my life, and then I had to move to Florida when I started 4th grade. That was one of the biggest things I had to adjust to. That and the fucking humidity and the way Gainesville treated college football like a fucking religion.

    • BattleSheep says:

      If you think Florida is bad, the Midwest is even worse. Especially the area closest to the great lakes, which were pretty much steamrolled by glaciers.

      I have the opposite problem. Growing up in super-flat prairie land, I get very weirded out whenever I go someplace with hills. Just being in the Appalachians was strange. I don't know what I'd do if I went somewhere in the Rockies where the mountains are like real mountains.

      • Patrick721 says:

        I'm actually going to college in Michigan now, so I do know how flat the midwest is.

      • Appachu says:

        THIS. (About the Midwest that is.) I'm from southern California, so I grew up surrounded by mountains or at least hills. And now I go to college elsewhere in southern California, and more of the same. And last weekend I went to Indianapolis and I look out of the window of my 14-th floor hotel window and it's just FLAT. So disorienting.

        • BattleSheep says:

          And Indianapolis at least has hills, or you know, inclines. Further north in Indiana or Illinois and there isn't even that. As kids, we used to go sledding at the garbage dump because it was the only hill for miles around.

  13. knut_knut says:

    Mr. Nancy's house is haunted by cookies. HE IS SO PERFECT!

  14. bookworm67 says:

    Agh, I've only just got my copy of the book now, not sure if I can catch up before the book's finished. How many chapters are there?

    Ah well, I'll still read the reviews after each chapter when I read it this weekend 🙂

  15. arctic_hare says:

    I've been saying all along that Mr. Nancy is awesome. <3 BECAUSE HE IS.

  16. nyogu says:

    I SHIP IT. Stop making me ship things. Aaaah. I don't know how to put into words how much I love this book. Keep going, Mark. You're getting to the really good part, now.

  17. Pitseleh says:

    Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is also used in an episode of Luther. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

  18. Pitseleh. says:

    also somebody's probably already said this, but… need more mr nancy in your life? READ NANCY BOYS.

  19. Lady X says:

    THE TRUNK. I just finished the book(I tried to read a chapter a day. I really did. The suspense was too much!) and you are NOT PREPARED. Just, ugh, my poor brain, I can’t even talk about this.

  20. Shiroikami says:

    This book. It does things. And then it turns around and does the things you never thought it would do.

    Even if you read it thirty times (which I may have at this point… and I really need to find my copy of it so I can read it AGAIN) you will never see everything that Neil Gaiman has done. Never. I find new things every time I read it. Every. Single. Time.

    Seriously? Just pick up this book and re-read it about every two months or so for the rest of your life. Just for yourself. You'll see.

  21. Christi says:

    Oh, I had to smile when I read "the spiders and the palmetto beetles and the lizards" because that just feels like Ft. Pierce (and all of Florida, really) in a nutshell.

  22. Jessica says:

    I, for one, would like to live in a house haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.

    I think that what Mr. Nancy does for Shadows is something no one else could possibly do for him at this point: by shoving him on stage and making him sing for regular humans, he is putting Shadow back, at least a little bit, into the world of the ‘real’. He gives the man an experience that belongs fully in reality and has almost nothing to do with gods, except for himself. (Though I kind of want Lorne from Angel to have been there…)

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