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The web of our life is of a mingled yarn,
This review is from: Anansi Boys (Hardcover)
good and ill together. That line from Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well captures the essence of Neil Gaiman's latest creation, Anansi Boys.
Charlie Nancy is one of life's more passive characters. He is perpetually embarrassed by those around him. He grew up in Florida embarrassed by his father who had an eye for the ladies, never seemed to have a job, and who bestowed upon Charlie the nickname "Fat Charlie". It is a name that stuck to Charlie like glue and has followed him everywhere he goes, even to England where he now lives and works. More than anything else, Fat Charlie is embarrassed by himself. His life is an endless stream of self-conscious needless apologies for his life. As one would expect from a character like Charlie he is timid in front of his boss and can't seem to convince his fiancé that there is nothing wrong with consummating their relationship prior to their marriage. The word perpetually frustrated comes to mind here.
As the story opens, Fat Charlie is back in Florida for the funeral of his father. Charlie no doubt hopes his dad's death, which occurred while singing a song in a Karaoke bar much to Charlie's embarrassment, will put an end to his own state of perpetual embarrassment. That is the closure Charlie seeks. But the old ladies who made up his Dad's circle of friends tell Fat Charlie that their father was something of a god, in fact a spider god. They also tell Fat Charlie he has a brother. Fat Charlie, of course, will have none of this nonsense and returns to England.
Of course, life is never so simple for any character drawn by Neil Gaiman. It turns out Fat Charlie does have a brother, Spider, who is everything Charlie is not. Spider is personable, charming, glib, and has the ability to charm the pants off just about anyone he desires. As the name Spider implies, Charlie is soon drawn into the parallel world inhabited by Spider a world of small gods and vengeful animals. Fat Charlie is introduced to a whole new universe of characters and his ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy grows increasingly thin.
Anansi Boys worked on two levels for me. First, I actually grew attached to the character of Fat Charlie. I was surprised that I developed such empathy for Fat Charlie. Generally, I do not find 'passive' characters all that attractive, but, as the book wore on I felt myself rooting for him. Second, Anansi Boy is, at its heart a story about a dysfunctional (but very funny) family and explores how its members try to reach some accommodation with their past and their present relationships. This is not meant to imply that the book is weighed down with ponderous statements on the meaning of life or families; far from it. The great success of Gaiman's writing in my opinion is that he can handle a topic with both humor and sensitivity. The story does not bog down in 'deep thoughts'. Gaiman spins his yarn and leaves it up to the reader to read between the laughs. I found the conclusion to be particularly well done.
I very much liked Anansi Boys. It should certainly satisfy fans of Gaiman's body of work. It is also accessible to anyone who has not read Gaiman.
Anansi Boys, like the spiders that form its conceptual heart, draws you inexorably into its web until you cannot get out. Fortunately, Gaiman has spun such a fine yarn that you don't mind being ensnared at all. This was a book worth reading.