Hassan wants to know if Colin already knew the World’s Largest Wooden Crucifix was in Kentucky. Colin tries to tell Hassan instead about the world’s largest wooden church in Finland, to which Hassan says, “not interesting.” The narrator notes that Colin has a list of “not interesting” conversation topics to help him and Hassan hold a “halfway normal conversation.” Colin focuses on the material aspects of the road trip, like his desire to find air conditioning, until he sees a sign for the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand off Exit 212 in Tennessee. Colin points it out to Hassan, who is all too happy to stop somewhere for lunch.
Hassan’s interest in the World’s Largest Wooden Crucifix is motivated by passing a sign for it on the road trip, whereas Colin’s interest in the world’s largest wooden church is simply due to the fact that he has information about it in his head. Colin would rather talk about something he knows than about something new, even when it is relevant to the present moment.
From the Hardee’s parking lot at the exit, Colin calls his mother. He asks if “anyone” called, and his mom tells him sorry and that she’ll tell “anyone” to call his cell. After he hangs up, he and Hassan eat at Hardees and get directions to the Archduke’s grave from the woman behind the register. They are looking for a town called Gutshot, she tells him.
“Anyone” is clearly Katherine XIX. Colin is embarrassed to talk about his heartbreak with his mother, even as he makes a pilgrimage to the grave of the Archduke, which he wants to see because he is worried about distinguishing himself before he dies.
Hassan expresses concern about going to Gutshot, which the woman at Hardees described as “the sticks.” He is skeptical about whether the people there have ever seen “an actual, living Arab.” For that matter, he asks if Colin if he thinks “they’ve ever seen a Jew-fro.” Colin insists, feeling that the Archduke’s grave will show him something about his missing piece and the hole in his gut even though he doesn’t believe in fate.
Hassan has surely encountered Islamophobia even in Chicago, where Arab people have a more visible presence than they do in much of rural America. Hassa worries that Gutshot’s rural atmosphere means that its people will be prejudiced against him. This moment thus demonstrates that Hassan does not have the same luxury as Colin to ignore his surroundings.
The narrator interjects that it is not fate but rather Colin’s “character and passions, his mistakes and weaknesses, that finally brought him to Gutshot, Tennessee – POPULATION 864, as the roadside sign read.” Nothing there looks especially remarkable until Colin sees a bright pink two-story building made out of cinder blocks. The building features a sign that says, “THE KINGDOM OF GUTSHOT – ETERNAL RESTING PLACE OF THE ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND / ICE-COLD BEER / SODA / BAIT.” Colin jokes about the sign, and Hassan says it’s a shame they are going to die here.
Colin’s rejection of the idea of destiny is at odds with his insistence that his future is inevitably disappointing. The casual tone of the sign that advertises the Archduke’s grave right alongside beer, soda, and bait makes even Colin laugh. In this moment, the seriousness with which he views himself and his connection to the Archduke begins to crack.
Colin and Hassan go into the building and hide behind racks of potato chips, neither of them wanting to approach the girl reading Celebrity Living behind the counter. Colin thinks she cannot possibly be interesting if she is reading Celebrity Living. Finally, he walks to the desk and asks about the Archduke. She surprises Colin by smiling briefly, then tells him that tours are once an hour, cost eleven dollars, “and frankly aren’t worth it.” Hassan puts twenty-two dollars on the counter because, as he says, Colin needs to see the Archduke to recover from his nervous breakdown. Hassan introduces himself as “Hassan Harbish. Sunni Muslim. Not a terrorist.” The girl, who will be their tour guide, introduces herself as “Lindsey Lee Wells. Methodist. Me neither.” Colin keeps noticing her smile even as he thinks about Katherine XIX and his missing piece.
Lindsey Lee Wells surprises both Colin and Hassan by being more interesting and open-minded than they originally assumed. Their surprise foreshadows the unexpected adventures they are about to have in Gutshot that will change how they each think about the world and their positions in it. Colin’s association between Lindsey and Katherine XIX also foreshadows the possibility that Lindsey will become a new love interest, thereby breaking Colin’s Katherine streak. Lindsey’s frank disinterest in the Archduke underscores the absurdity of Colin’s quest to find his life’s meaning by visiting a tourist attraction.
Colin misses the well-paved landscape of Chicago while he, Lindsey, and Hassan walk across an uneven field. Colin finds reasons to be annoyed with both of them and tries to provoke Hassan by asking about his college plans. Hassan responds that his father, Mr. Harbish, didn’t go to college, and while he works much harder than Hassan does, it is this hard work that allows Hassan to sit around doing nothing all day. Colin wonders silently, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”
Colin is so out of place in Gutshot that the very landscape makes him feel physically destabilized. This destabilization represents the changes Colin is beginning to experience in his worldview as he abandons the unattainable goal of becoming a genius and learns to enjoy life in the present moment.
Colin gets distracted making anagrams, which leads him to trip, fall, and hit his head on a rock. Lindsey asks Hassan for his shirt to bandage Colin’s head wound. When he refuses, Lindsey uses her own shirt. She surprises Hassan and Colin by revealing that although she is only seventeen, she is a paramedic in training. While she jogs away to get a first aid kit, Colin notices that he likes the smell her perfume leaves behind.
Colin’s proclivity to disappear into his own head now leads him to physical injury. The injury gives rise to another occasion for Lindsey to surprise Colin and Hassan, and it thus causes Colin to start paying more attention to what his senses tell him about his surroundings.
Hassan reveals that he did not want to take off his shirt in front of Lindsey because he did not want to reveal is “man-tits.” He helps Colin look for his glasses while describing Lindsey’s purple bra to his friend. Colin reflects on the Katherines whose bras he has seen (“four, unless you count straps, in which case seven”). Katherine XIX wore a purple bra when she dumped him. Colin thinks that people misunderstand why he gets dumped so often. He is not a “glutton for punishment,” as many people think, but rather struggles to see the future just as he struggles to see what is right in front of him without his glasses. He stops Hassan from trying to put Colin’s glasses on for him and pushes them up his nose himself, saying “Eureka.”
Hassan again brings Colin and the reader’s attention to the concept of embodiment. This time, not only does Hassan help to ground Colin in his body, but he also shows some vulnerability by revealing his self-consciousness about his body. This vulnerability illuminates that while Colin thinks he is shortsighted because he cannot see the future, he might in fact be shortsighted because he fails to account for others’ perspectives.
In a section entitled “Katherine XIX: The End (of the End),” Colin recalls the day Katherine XIX broke up with him. It was the day they graduated and nearly a year into their relationship. He remembers driving to dinner in Satan’s Hearse. They bickered, and K-19 told Colin it was good he was not a child prodigy anymore because he was not a child. He felt a twinge in his gut, which he reflects was the first sign of the piece about to go missing. They resolved the bickering match, but later, after sneaking into Colin’s house together, Colin again began telling K-19 he was past his prime. K-19 told Colin that he needed a robot to assure him of its love rather than an actual girlfriend. She held him while he cried. After she left, he anagrammed “mymissingpiece” and tried to fall asleep.
The fact that Colin associates his missing piece first with the loss of the “prodigy” title and then with Katherine XIX shows that he revised his understanding of the hole in his gut to blame it on Katherine XIX instead of recognizing his own failure to discover a sense of himself. Colin has relied on other people to give him a sense of who he is, and when these definitions are called into question, it leads him to feel that his identity is in crisis.