Sons of god: Darice Moore on Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys

Please note that this book reaction was written by Darice Moore, who generously consents to be my friend although I rarely read fantasy.

Neil Gaiman’s new novel Anansi Boys is set in the same universe as his 2001 novel American Gods, but where Gods is sprawling, taking on multiple mythologies and creating new ones, Boys is tightly focused. Here we have only one god to deal with, the spider god Anansi, and Gaiman takes advantage of the limited scope to thoroughly explore the ramifications of the trickster-storyteller through a cast of characters who are all, in different ways, finding their voices.

Fat Charlie Nancy lives a purposefully quiet life in London, far from his father’s influence. He’s engaged to a sweet girl, he has a steady job, and he thinks he’s happy. When his father dies, Fat Charlie finds out several things: his father, Mr. Nancy, was actually the god Anansi. And Fat Charlie isn’t Mr. Nancy’s only son. And the brother he never knew “got all that god stuff.” What ensues is a comedy of errors as Fat Charlie first gets to know, then tries to get rid of, his charming brother while learning what it means to be one of Anansi’s boys.

“Every story is Anansi’s,” we are told early in the novel, and Gaiman weaves Anansi tales (some traditional, some fabricated) into Fat Charlie’s story with a skillful hand, using the mythic first to underpin the modern and then to inform it. In many ways, Anansi Boys is a paean to the storyteller’s art; despite (or perhaps intrinsic to) the criminal and mythical hijinks, at heart the book is a meditation on the nature and power of story, the innately human need to tell stories and how those stories bind us together and illuminate the world around us. The book is suffused with a sincere joy in the storyteller’s art that makes reading it feel like a shared celebration.

But Anansi Boys is also a good read, a book that (like the spider to the fly) tempts you into its web, and then holds you there. The plot includes deceit, embezzlement, murder, and acute embarrassment, all told in a wry, amused voice that really isn’t laughing at the characters but with them. I stayed up nearly all night to finish reading it, a feat I don’t often pull these days, and then spent days afterward thinking about all the ways that the book plays on its own themes. With Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman proves that the fast-paced and amusing tale can sometimes have the deepest resonance.

Details: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, William Morrow, 352 pp., $26.95.


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