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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Anansi Boys

Review: Anansi Boys
By Neil Gaiman

· Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
· Publisher: HarperTorch (September 26, 2006)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0060515198

If Shakespeare was correct that “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” then Charlie Nancy would much rather be a passive viewer sitting in the dark corner of a back row in the theater of life. Charlie is so self-conscious and awkward to the point that everything and everyone (including himself) is a constant source of embarrassment to him. The main source of his embarrassment (other than himself) is his father, a man who loves (and is much loved by) women and who never seemed to hold down a job or had any visible means of income.

Mr. Nancy, Charlie’s father, gave him the nickname of ‘Fat’ Charlie at a very young age; and despite the fact that Charlie isn’t fat or even pudgy, that nickname has followed him throughout his life and everywhere he goes, even as far as England where he now lives and works. Despite his poor self-image and low self-esteem, Fat Charlie has managed to find gainful employment with the Graham Coates Accounting Agency and become engaged to Rosie Noah, who works for a charity.

As the story opens, Rosie has reluctantly convinced Charlie to invite his father to their wedding only to discover upon attempting to contact Mr. Nancy that his father has died. As his father’s only son, Fat Charlie travels to Florida to do right by his father and get his house in order. True to form, Fat Charlie is late to his father’s funeral and ends up causing a scene by giving a eulogy to his father at the wrong funeral!

Later, after the funeral, Charlie is visiting his old neighborhood and while talking with some of his father’s friends, four elderly black women, learns that his father was, quite literally, a God. At first Fat Charlie doesn’t believe the women and humors them, but they insist that Mr. Nancy was a God. In fact, he was Anansi, the Spider God, a trickster who own all stories. Even Mrs. Dunwiddy, at 104 the eldest of the women, remembers Mr. Nancy being a man when she was but a little girl. In addition, Fat Charlie is surprised to learn that he once had a brother, who inherited his father’s god-like powers, but who was sent away by Mrs. Dunwiddy many years prior after he broke her garden gazing ball. Before leaving to return to England, Caroline Higgler (Mr. Nancy’s neighbor) tells Charlie that if he ever wishes to meet his brother, just tell a spider and that he will get the message.

On his first night back in England, Charlie’s girlfriend is startled by a spider in his bathtub and asks Charlie to take it outside. While removing the spider, Charlie remembers Mrs. Higgler’s instructions and asks the spider to pass a message along to his brother. Not long after, Spider Nancy shows up at Charlie’s door and Charlie must give Spider the bad news that their father has died. Spider promptly disappears through a photograph to verify his father’s passing for himself leaving Charlie to wonder if their meeting had actually occurred. When Spider returns, he takes Charlie out for a night on the town to mourn the death of their father and celebrate his life with ‘wine, women, and song.’

Charlie drinks too much and embarrasses himself at a karaoke bar, only to pass out and be taken home by Spider and Daisy (one of many women that Spider charmed into tagging along on their night out). The following day, Charlie oversleeps and wakes up in bed with Daisy. He learns that Spider has gone into his office pretending to be him, although Charlie doesn’t quite understand how every would believe that Spider is Charlie. Spider actually does a very good job impersonating Charlie, in fact his was too good at his job.

Spider discovers that Graham Coates, Charlie’s boss, has been embezzling funds from his client’s accounts and has been doing so for some time. When Graham Coates calls Spider (who he thinks is Charlie) into his office to terminate his employment, Spider reveals he knows all about Graham Coates’ embezzlement without making a direct accusation. Graham Coates then gives Charlie two weeks off with pay and a bonus, which he believes will get Charlie out of his way until he figures out how to deal with the situation. Graham decides that the best solution to his problem is to make Charlie the scapegoat for his crimes and sets about covering his tracks and planning his escape. Before he can complete his plan, Graham is forced to murder a client who has discovered his theft and confronted him with the evidence.

Spider begins to discover that he actually likes being Charlie, and so he slowly land deliberately begins to take over Charlie’s life and identity. However, it is when Charlie discovers that Spider has slept with his fiancé Rosie, he resolves to get rid of Spider. Charlie returns to Florida where he seeks the advice of the four elderly women whom he compares to the witches in Macbeth. He convinces the women to help him and they perform a ritual which sends him to the Beginning of the World, a magickal place inhabited by animal totems. Here, Charlie travels through a series of caves meeting with various human/animal hybrids seeking their assistance in getting rid of Spider.

Charlie strikes a bargain with Bird Woman offering her Anansi’s bloodline in return for her getting rid of Spider. At this point the action really begins to accelerate as Spider begins to be attacked by birds everywhere he goes and Rosie discovers Spider’s deception. She declares that she won’t have anything to do with either Spider or Charlie, who has been arrested for suspicion of embezzlement. In an effort to distance herself from Spider’s betrayal as well as to examine her feeling, Rosie goes on a cruise with her mother. Spider is captured by Bird Woman, stripped of most of his powers and left at the mercy of an old enemy; while Rosie and her mother are captured by Graham who wishes to take his revenge upon Charlie by killing them. With Spider unable to assist him and without Rosie’s support and encouragement, Charlie is forced to embrace his heritage and save the ones he loves.

The characters in Anansi’s Boys are multi-dimensional, colorful, full of personality, humorous, flawed, and best of all human (even when they’re not). I really liked the inclusion of traditional tales and mythology concerning Anansi and the animal kingdom as well as the casual manner in which the elderly women in Florida discuss and practice magick. Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Gaiman’s love of writing and passion about his subject matter clearly shows in the details which make up his stories; which makes him a story-teller worthy of Anansi himself.

Carolina Dean 

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