An American Dream is centered on the life of the protagonist and narrator, Stephen Rojack, who is an ex-soldier that fought during the World War II, a university professor in New York, and a television show host. He is also a former congressman and graduated from Harvard. Stephen dates Deborah Kelly, who is a wealthy heiress, and he realizes that he can climb up the social ladder through her. Charming his way into her heart, they get married.
When Stephen grows weary of their relationship, they separate and Deborah relocates to a lavish apartment. They were both unfaithful and eventually became bitter to each other. Stephen has a debt of $16000. He decides to visit his wife. In Deborah’s house, they quarrel and he strangles her because he could not control his anger. Before leaving the apartment, he enters the room of Deborah’s maid, Ruta, and has sex with her. Ruta is unaware that he has killed Deborah.
Subsequently, Stephen leaves and later returns to the apartment, pondering how he will do to the body of his wife. He then throws the body down through the apartment balcony. Deborah’s body lands in the street after falling from the tenth floor. A car hits the body and results in a traffic accident because is hit by a vehicle. After seeing the accident, Stephen calls the police and reports that an accident has occurred. She sets her death up as a suicide, as he hopes to go free. He tells the maid that his wife committed suicide and rushes to the street and kneels over Deborah’s body. The head of the deceased was crushed. Stephen is questioned by an investigator, Robert. The passengers in the car that hit the body are Eddie Ganucci, Cherry, and Tony.
He explains the “suicide” to the Police, and even though they are unsure if it is true, they let him go. At the police department, Rojack meets Cherry, who he thinks is a perfect female. Cherry recognizes him because he had been a frequent viewer of the program he hosts. He is also questioned by two other police officers, O’Brien and Leznicki. One of the officers asks for the reason behind him strangling Deborah and notes that Deborah’s hyoid bone was broken. He is taken to the morgue to identify the body and shortly to the police station. Robert tries to persuade him to confess the crimes but he refuses.
The attention of the officers is turned to Ganucci, a criminal they have sought for a long period. They had found him by chance because he was in the car that hit Deborah. Leznicki tells Stephen that Cherry works as a singer in nightclubs and is the girlfriend to Shago Martin. He is released from custody as the detectives await the report from the coroner. Later, he goes to the club where Cherry is performing and the pair leaves the nightclub together. They go to a house belonging to Cherry’s sister and she reveals that her sister killed herself after she snatched her boyfriend. He has sex with her that night and then goes back to the police station for cross-examination. Eventually, the report confirms that his wife killed herself. Stephen gets a report that his father-in-law wanted to meet him.
After leaving the station, he returns to Cherry’s house and they have sex for a second time. He also admits to her that he was responsible for the death of Deborah. Cherry also confesses that she aborted a pregnancy she got from Shago. Shortly, her boyfriend enters. The two men engage in a fight, and Stephen manages to drag Shago and throws him down the stairs. She convinces Cherry that they leave New York and go to Las Vegas.
Rojack goes to meet Deborah’s father, where he finds out that Deborah and her father had an affair together. When Rojack reveals he killed Deborah, Kelley forced Rojack to walk on a guardrail, believing that he will fall to his death. Rojack manages the walk without falling and runs away after he hits Kelly in the head. When he returns looking for Cherry, the woman he realized he fell in love with, she finds her brutally murdered. He turns mad as he tries to escape from New York to Las Vegas and finally Guatemala.