Neil Gaiman has one of the most distinctive narrative voices I’ve ever read. He seamlessly blends the real world, and even current pop culture, with fantasy, and in such a droll way–as if, Well, of course you can move between worlds and dimensions. Of course there’s a cave at the end/beginning of the world where the gods hang out. Why wouldn’t there be? Nobody is ever too surprised by the fantastical occurrences in his story, nor are any of the characters overly dramatic even about otherwise dramatic events. They take everything in stride, tongue-in-cheek, as if completely aware that they’re characters in a book written by a British author with a wry sense of humor. He is hysterical too: even in just the way he describes the simplest scenes, I often find myself laughing out loud. Gaiman has this way of putting into words exactly what everyone else thinks but can’t find the words to describe, which is precisely why he’s so funny. His humor has that sense of the understated, yet obvious. After reading his books, I feel like I have a fairly decent idea what it would be like to hang out with him.
Anansi Boys certainly encompasses all of this, and I’d say that even though the plot is intriguing, the narrative voice is the story’s most distinctive feature. Anansi is essentially the trickster god, which I’ve always heard portrayed as the Br’r Rabbit—but apparently in some cultures, he’s a spider. The story follows Fat Charlie Nancy, Anansi’s son (and Fat Charlie isn’t actually fat, but his father gave him that name when he was young, and the name stuck). Fat Charlie hates his father for all the jokes he’s played on him throughout the years, and they are estranged until Fat Charlie’s mother dies. Anansi makes one last grand appearance at her deathbed, and then he dies too. Through rumor, essentially, Fat Charlie learns that Anansi is a god, and that he, Fat Charlie, has a brother whom he can summon if he tells a spider he wants to see him. Drunk and half kidding, Fat Charlie tries it–and his brother Spider appears the next morning. Spider is in every way what Fat Charlie wishes he could be: where Fat Charlie is bashful, Spider is confident. Where Fat Charlie is backwards, Spider is smooth. He seems to just make things happen. People give him things for free. Women fall all over him. He, apparently, got all the ‘god’ genes while Fat Charlie got all the ‘ordinary’ ones. Spider decides he likes Fat Charlie’s apartment, and he likes Fat Charlie’s fiancé Rosie, and he’s going to stay for awhile. So Fat Charlie seeks help in a land of mythical gods, willing to make a deal—any deal—to get his brother to go away. Mayhem of epic proportions ensues, of course.
The biggest negative I’ve found to Gaiman stories in general is that his fantasy is distinctively “adult”—while fantasy usually seems to be geared towards kids, for him nothing is really off-limits. Some of the stories I’ve read in the past have been quite gruesome at times (I can still recall one particularly awful torture scene, yet described with Gaiman’s characteristic nonchalance and even humor). Anansi Boys had a bit of that, but nothing over-the-top. This one was mostly light-hearted, funny, and (as always) incredibly creative.
My review: **** 1/2
Jim Strawn says
Trickster gods come in many forms and almost all cultures have them. In the American Southwest it usually coyote, in the Northwest its Raven, in the Northeast frequently its raccoon. In Northern Europe you have elves and gnomes and other fey creatures. They all server the same purpose: to teach a lesson, to illustrate desired behavior or to show the results of bad behavior. This story follows that form as a ‘be satisfied with who you are’ or a ‘be careful what you wish for’ tale.