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Book Review--The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anyone who’s ever read African folklore has come across the trickster god Anansi, a spider who’s always taking advantage of his fellow gods, humans and anyone else unlucky enough to get in his way. And anyone who’s ever read a Neil Gaiman book, comic or graphic novel knows that this story from this master of fantasy is bound to include unforgettable characters, brilliantly blunt writing, biting humor and engrossing themes. The Anansi Boys is no different. It’s a fast read, funny and fantastic and whimsical in all the ways you’ve come to expect from the creator of The Sandman.

The Anansi Boys takes place on a slightly smaller scope than its predecessor, Gaiman’s entertaining romp through the Midwest American Gods. It’s a simpler tale because it focuses on just one god. Actually, it focuses on his son. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the ideas are less complex than in American Gods. It does mean there are fewer characters, fewer gods, and no House on the Rock (which, by the way, is a real roadside attraction in Wisconsin). The Anansi Boys is ultimately easier to understand for those of us who get confused easily (like me), and a good yarn to boot.

The protagonist is Charlie Nancy, who has always been “Fat Charlie” to everyone he meets despite the fact that he’s no longer overweight. A hapless, passive sort, he doesn’t seem particularly worthy of being the offspring of a clever god like Anansi. As the story begins, he’s about to marry his fiancée—who is basically settling for Fat Charlie in order to bug her mum.

Fat Charlie seems a hapless, passive type of character, not particularly worthy of being the offspring of clever Anansi. He’s living a mundane, stable life, probably in part a reaction to growing up with a larger-than-life father. He has a fiancée, who’s basically “settling” for him. Gaiman creates in Fat Charlie an eminently likeable guy, despite his shortcomings. Charlie soon discovers he’s not the only one of Anansi’s children—and his brother Spider apparently inherited all the god-like qualities. And thus the trouble begins. Spider enters Fat Charlie’s life, steals his fiancée, loses him his job and moves into his apartment—and that’s just the beginning. To get rid of Spider, Fat Charlie flies across continents, dabbles in magic and enters another world. In doing so, he unwittingly gives Anansi’s greatest enemy the power to destroy himself and his brother.

Eventually all the elements of the story are woven together into a neat climax—or series of climaxes, anyway, which take place (appropriately or not, you decide) in a tropical paradise. The Anansi Boys shows off Gaiman’s imaginative powers to the fullest; it’s a sharp and whimsical tale, woven with irony and mixed with an element of darkness that’s somehow gentle. You’ll like this one.

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