I was so excited to see Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys on the list of available books, because I've always been a big fan. Gaiman's prose makes me want to write; I don't mean this in the "I could have done better than that" way, but that Gaiman inspires me to great heights whenever I read anything by him. Anansi Boys is even better than American Gods, with the story being more personal, more intimate. I've been a big fan of Gaiman's since the Sandman comic series, and nothing here will change any of that. Anansi Boys is fantastic.
Fat Charlie (not his real name, but it's a name his father gave him, and names his father gives always seem to stick) was taken to England by his mother when he was young, mainly to get away from his father. Fat Charlie has had a good life and is now engaged to a wonderful woman, but things start to spiral when his fiancée, Rosie, insists on inviting his father to their wedding. Fat Charlie finds out that his father has just died and goes to Florida for the funeral. Thus begins a sequence of events that will introduce Fat Charlie to his charming brother, Spider, a man with the powers of a god - the powers of his father, truth be told. Spider is impulsive and always looking out for his own pleasure, which just makes things worse. But things get out of control when the other gods get involved. Their father, known as Anansi, wasn't exactly well-liked by the other gods, and their revenge may affect the boys, too. Fat Charlie is in way over his head and, for once, so is Spider. Even the old ladies who seem to know what is going on may not be able to help them before it's too late.
Turning every page in Anansi Boys is a pure treat as Gaiman's prose leaps off the page. Gaiman seems fascinated with stories, as most of his other works also indicate. Here, Anansi stole the stories of the world from Tiger way back when the world was new, and Tiger has forever resented it. Gaiman's love for stories shines through, the words sounding almost lyrical.
"Stories are like spiders, with all the long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another: each to each." (p. 39)
The story is told in third-person, but occasionally the narrator will turn and talk to the reader - just an aside or two, and then back to the story. It's a wonderful technique that adds to the mythological aspects of the book. There isn't a clunky word in this book anywhere.
The stories of Gaiman’s characters intertwine gracefully, but a couple of the coincidences grate just a little. This isn't as annoying as it could have been, perhaps because of the mythological nature of the book which seems to require these sorts of things. Fat Charlie ends up meeting Daisy, a financial cop who just happens to be called in on a case involving him? Whatever the case, these are only minor annoyances and are lessened by the type of story Gaiman is telling.
Fat Charlie and Spider make an interesting pair, and while their secret surprised me, it fits wonderfully in hindsight, given the Fat Charlie’s personality. He's not a go-getter, reluctant to put himself out in the middle where he might get hurt. He's a great singer who gets complete stage-fright when he's supposed to do it in front of people. He seems to have settled for Rosie, and he doesn't have a lot of drive. Spider, meanwhile, is almost the exact opposite, living everything in the moment and moving on when he feels like it.
Another good character is Grahame Coats, Fat Charlie's evil boss, who moves from scam to scam whenever things start to get a little hot for him. He always has a contingency plan, but this time things seem to be going very wrong, and he starts acting crazier and crazier. One thing I didn't like about Coats is how unclear it was how much of his personality comes from another source or whether this happens only at the end. Ambiguity can be good, and I'm sure that's what Gaiman was aiming for, but I think there is too much ambiguity where Coats is concerned.
The main female characters, Daisy and Rosie, aren't as strong as I might have liked, but they do have wonderful moments within the narrative. Where the relationships between these four characters end up is somewhat obvious, but I enjoyed watching how they got there. Daisy is an impulsive cop willing to walk away from her job to get the bad guy; Rosie, while she seems fairly weak at the beginning of the book, shows an inner fire later that belies the initial image. The old women are background characters (both Rosie's mom and the old women who help Fat Charlie), but are all entertaining in their own way.
The plot of the book is very straightforward, despite its supernatural origin. There aren't any inexplicable flights of fancy in Anansi Boys; instead, every trip to another reality is grounded solidly in the story. I enjoyed the mythology that Gaiman uses, and I loved how the revenge motif travels throughout the old gods for what Anansi did to them for all those years. And I found the relationship between the two brothers fascinating.
All in all, Anansi Boys is yet another winner from Gaiman.