It’s remarkable, really, how long I was permitted to exist without reading Neil Gaiman. In retrospect, I suppose it’s a good thing that I didn’t read any of his books until college – had I been exposed to his work in high school, the result would have been a near-obsession filled with pages of awful fanfiction and an emotional meltdown when I learned that Mr. Gaiman is happily married.
But this didn’t happen, thankfully. My first Neil Gaiman book was American Gods, and when my roommate (a much more dedicated fan than me) recommended it, she added that although the book was good, Anansi Boys was better. I started reading this one with some trepidation, as I was convinced that nothing could ever be as good as American Gods, but to my delight, I was proven wrong.
Sometimes, you read a book and know you’re going to love it by the end of the first chapter. Sometimes you know after the first paragraph. With Anansi Boys, I knew at the dedication. It goes like this:
“You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated the book to someone else and not to you.
Not this time.
Because we haven’t yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven’t seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other…
This one’s for you.
With you know what, and you probably know why.”
Someone fetch me a fainting couch and some smelling salts, I need to swoon for a moment.
Ok, I’m back. Anyway, what I really liked about this book was it just focused on a small group of people. American Gods, this book’s predecessor-but-not-exactly-prequel, was a sprawling epic with tons of characters and rules and the fate of the entire world and then some depended on the ending coming off right. Anansi Boys takes that same world, one in which the gods are still alive and living among us, and zeroes in on just a couple of characters: the trickster god Anansi’s two adult sons, one of whom has grown up knowing his father is a god, the other who is unaware of this. The stakes are still high, of course, and battles must be fought before the end, but the scope of the novel wasn’t as expansive and exhausting as American Gods. You don’t necessarily have to read one before the other, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.
I forgot to mark the good passages in my copy, so here are three random excerpts from the pages I remember off the top of my head:
“Like all sentient beings, Fat Charlie had a weirdness quotient. For some days the needle had been over in the red, occasionally banging jerkily against the pin. Now the meter broke. From this moment on, he suspected, nothing would surprise him. He could no longer be outweirded. He was done.
He was wrong, of course.”
“Fat Charlie tried to remember what people did in prison to pass the time, but all he could come up with was keeping secret diaries and hiding things in their bottoms. He had nothing to write on, and felt that a definite measure of how well one was getting on in life was not having to hide things in one’s bottom.
Nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen. More Nothing. The Return of Nothing. Son of Nothing. Nothing Rides Again. Nothing and Abbott and Costello meet the Wolfman.”
“Maybe Anansi’s just some guy from a story, made up back in Africa in the dawn days of the world by some boy with blackfly on his leg, pushing his crutch in the dirt, making up some goofy story about a man made of tar. Does that change anything? People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folks who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don’t get an easy meal, now they’re starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper’s changed.”
Verdict: five out of five stars