Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
It’s safe to say Neil Gaiman will be remembered as a literary tour-de-force long after we are all gone. His crowning achievement – the Sandman graphic novels – secured him a place in literary history as soon as people began reading them.
It should come as no surprise that Gaiman once again revisits the mythos that consistently peppered the Sandman novels and American Gods. By now, Gaiman has credibly established a universe where ancient gods still walk among modern man, spreading their wisdom and, more often than not, wreaking mischief upon unsuspecting mankind.
The premise of Anansi Boys is this: When Charlie Nancy’s father named something, it stuck. Like the nickname Fat Charlie. Even though Fat Charlie is now a grown man, living in London and engaged, he’s still saddled with embarrassing moniker.
When his father drops dead on a karaoke bar stage, Fat Charlie has the unsettling feeling he’s still not free of the older man’s influence, and he’s correct. Nancy’s boring, staid life suddenly transforms into a bubbling maelstrom with trips across the Atlantic, the surprising appearance of a brother he never knew he had, and – perhaps the most startling revelation of all – the realization that Mr. Nancy wasn’t simply an embarrassing father. No, he was Anansi, the trickster, spider god of rebellion, and he had an annoying habit of not staying dead.
Gaiman masterfully weaves ancient mythology with subtle pathos, knowing almost every reader will easily identify with Fat Charlie’s dysfunctional family. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to not sympathize with Charlie’s confusion when his mischievous brother appears, his sights seemingly set on ruining Charlie’s life all in the name of teaching Charlie to have a little fun.
A colorful cast of characters, including a cantankerous future mother-in-law, a shyster boss who’s been fleecing his clients for years, a group of decrepit, grouchy witches and a slew of ancient gods make this story incredibly satisfying. Blending gods with man is never easy, but Gaiman makes it look effortless.
One might say Anansi Boys is a coming-of-age story for Fat Charlie, because the man who appears on the first page of the story is nothing like the man left standing on the last, and I was glad for that.