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.
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????