Anansi Boys, the sequel to American Gods, has a decidedly different feel to it compared to its predecessor. While American Gods had the feeling of a sweeping epic, Anansi Boys is the story of one particular young man. This just goes to showcase the talent that Neil Gaiman possesses, because both books are exceptionally well-written.
Fat Charlie Nancy is our hapless protagonist, shifting as life forces him to move. He gets bossed around at work. His fiancée, Rosie, refuses to sleep with him until after they’re married. The one aspect of his life that causes him the most trouble, however, is his father. He spent most of his childhood being tricked, and, understandably, enjoyed the fact that his mother moved the two of them to England when he was a child, while his father stayed behind in Florida.
The real adventure starts when Fat Charlie’s father dies. It is then that he learns that his father was a god — Anansi, the spider god — and also that he has a brother. When, in an idle impulse, Fat Charlie asks a spider to bring his brother to him, his problems really start. His brother, Spider, is everything Fat Charlie isn’t — confident, self-assured, and charming. Spider also ends up in love with Rosie. Fat Charlie’s frustration with his brother boils over, and his anger leads him to make a dangerous decision with unforeseen consequences.
Most likely the best thing about both Anansi Boys and American Gods is their use of traditional mythological characters while maintaining a realistic modern sensibility. I’ve read books where the author has taken a mythological or religious theme and placed it in the modern day and made it cloying or cutesy; Anansi Boys is never either of those. Rather, Gaiman’s novel has a sharpness to it that creates a sense of believability that is uncommon in books with fantastical components.
Another wonderful aspect of Gaiman’s writing is the lightness of it. Even when characters are in peril and the pacing is fast, Gaiman’s prose is supple and flowing. His use of humor is also quite smooth and rather dry, which goes well with the overall tone and subject of the book.
My only quibble is the ending, which I found a bit too neat. That might just be me, thinking ahead to future books, but I would have liked a little more ambiguity in the final results of Fat Charlie’s story. I also would have liked a stronger development of Fat Charlie’s boss, Grahame Coats, and his relationship to Tiger. Until very close to the end, Gaiman didn’t discuss a direct relationship between the two; while this might have been because he wanted to create a surprise factor, it isn’t too terribly difficult to imagine, and I think the story might be more interesting if there were a more defined partnership between the two.
Overall, Anansi Boys is well worth the read, especially for its interesting take on magical realism and Gaiman’s strong writing. The gods may be based on African ones, but the story belongs to us all. Let’s take advantage of that.