anansi boys: a review

Anansi Boys Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I always get a little apprehensive about reading books that are continuations of other books (or spinoffs, in this case), especially those books that I thoroughly enjoyed. They usually end up disappointing me; however, this book was an exception. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a good fantasy story, even if you haven't read American Gods first. If you have read and enjoyed AG, then this is a must-read. Although it had a lot of similarities to the first novel, it was different enough to keep it from feeling the same.

Neil Gaiman does what he does best: tells a fantasy story well enough to almost make you believe it's happened. He takes any need for explanation and leaves in the wonder. When a character takes our hero, Fat Charlie to another dimension, the only explanation is, just take my hand. We didn't wonder how Peter Pan flew and I didn't worry about the magic and wonder here either. I love the little details, the quirky things that he adds to stories that don't make a difference to the plot but make you giggle a little. He's probably one of the few authors who can actually make me laugh out loud, especially embarrassing since I read most of this on the bus.

Fat Charlie is in fact, not fat. It was a nickname his father gave to him when he was a chubby child and it stuck like glue. Charlie finds out his father has died in Florida. So, on the heels of his engagement, Charlie heads to Florida for his father's funeral. Charlie no doubt hopes his Dad's death, which occurred while singing a song in a Karaoke bar, will put an end to his own state of perpetual embarrassment. That is the closure he seeks. But the old ladies who made up his Dad's circle (Harem) of friends tell Fat Charlie that his father was something of a little (g) god. In fact he was the West African Trickster Spider god Anansi. They also tell Charlie he has a brother. Charlie will have none of this nonsense and returns to England. Charlie does have a brother, Spider who is a chip off the old trickster block. Charlie is soon drawn into the parallel world inhabited by Spider, a world of small gods and vengeful animals. A whole new universe of characters and his (and our) ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy grows increasingly thin.

Perhaps it's that I've tricked myself into expecting something different from Gaiman. I've read too many of his more disturbing short stories, too many Sandmans. In a Neil Gaiman story, nothing is ever really all right. His characters straddle the place between light and darkness, often by choice, to protect the rest of us. That, perhaps, is what makes the humor of Anansi Boys so startling: it seems inappropriate, somehow, like a drunken old uncle laughing during a funeral, then tossing a rubber duck down the hole with his shovelfuls of dirt.

Like one of those relatives at a funeral who isn't the drunken old uncle, I didn't laugh at first when the novel was funny. I saw it, I knew it was funny-- gut-achingly funny-- but I didn't laugh. It's one of those cringe-worthy things. It's why I couldn't get into The Office until I was lent Season One DVD's. Instead I read on, gravely, worrying for poor Fat Charlie; somewhere along the way, I lightened up and began to laugh, sometimes on the bus, sometimes in the cafeteria at work. It is amazing how much I found myself caring for Charlie and the things that happen to him.

It's ultimately a story that straddles a grey place. (I think it deserves the British spelling for reasons you'll understand when you read it.) Anansi is a trickster, a force of nature and so is Gaiman in this book, he straddles the dangerous places in between, in order that we might cross them ourselves.

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