Sunday, April 30, 2006

PTN Book Club: Amber on Anansi Boys

I put off getting a copy of Anansi Boys because of how underwhelming I found Neil Gaiman's last novel, American Gods. This resulted in my having to pay cover price at Barnes & Nobel after realizing that the library copies were checked out and it was too late to order it from Amazon. Anansi Boys may not have provided $30 worth of enjoyment, but it was still the most pleasant of the books we've read so far.

We start with Fat Charlie Nancy. Fat Charlie isn't fat, or at least he isn't anymore, but when he was younger, his father gave him the nickname and it stuck. Fat Charlie's father had a knack for naming things, along with an uncanny ability to embarrass his son and a way with the ladies. Fat Charlie hasn't seen his father in years, and is preparing to wed Rosie, an English do-gooder, when he gets some bad news: his dad is dead. He flies from London to Florida and arrives just in time to help bury his father and to find out from an old neighbor that he has a long-lost brother. When he drunkenly invokes the mysterious sibling, all hell breaks loose.

You see, Fat Charlie's father was a god, and even dead gods have plenty of enemies. This goes double for trickster gods like Anansi, the spider deity that was Charlie's father.

Unlike the rather plodding, dark American Gods, Anansi Boys has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (making me reassess whether the laughs in Good Omens came from Gaiman or Pratchett). And unlike On Beauty, Anansi Boys has well-drawn, subtle black
characters. Interestingly, no black character is ever described as such; other characters are instead differentiated from them by their whiteness, like Grahame Coats, who looks like "an albino ferret in an expensive suit."

I flew through Anansi Boys, but some stand-out bits were Gaiman's explanation that everyone has their own life song (this is the tune we sing in the shower, and the words are usually too embarrassing for public consumption), the descriptions of Rosie's mum, a desiccated Eartha Kitt-lookalike who holds a grudge against Charlie for trying to eat her wax fruit, and the amusing response of some islanders who can't believe that anyone would take a holiday with nothing but a lime as luggage. The only part that rung false was the easy escape of Charlie's brother from the avian emissaries of a rival god. I've read The Dark Half. Birds will tear you up.

Anansi Boys deserves the success it achieved (it premiered at #1 on the NYT bestseller list), and it provided a solid $10.95 worth of reading pleasure. Recommended.
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