Eight Geeks

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Book Review - Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Well, I finished Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman a while back, and I've been mulling it over, trying to digest it. That always takes a while with his books, and especially the Amercian Gods universe stories. But I think I've finally gotten a handle on it, so here's my review:

I'll admit, I was looking forward to this book more than I had realized (even going so far as to call Ranson a jerk because he got to read it before me...sorry, man). That's in no small part because I'm just a big Neil Gaiman fan. But the adventures of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday in the original American Gods hooked me on this universe in a big way. I was looking forward to exploring it a bit more. And Gaiman doesn't disappoint, although he puts a unique spin on this second book-length foray into the world of gods made flesh.

The first book in the series was a combination of whodunit and adventure story, with a bit of self-discovery thrown in for good measure. It featured a litany of gods from around the world, and had a truly global feel, if not a global scope. Anansi Boys takes an almost 180° opposite tack, having a very narrow focus, but a globe-trotting storyline. Both books are appropriately named, and AB is all about the travails of the sons of Anansi.

Anansi Boys can be looked at in several different ways. It could be a coming of age story. It could be a journey of self-discovery. It could be an empowerment play. It could be a straight-up G vs. E story. And it's all those things, to one degree of another, but what I really think it is, is a love story.

Multiple love stories, actually, because duality is the name of the game here: two brothers, two love interests, flamboyance versus drabness, age versus youth, authority versus rebellion, male versus female, brother versus brother, parent versus child, mortality versus godhood and the big one, life versus death. The beauty of AB, though, is that all these dualities get blurred along the way. Nothing is ever as cut and dried and you think it is, and I think a story about the bloodline of Anansi is the perfect venue for making that statement.

This tale starts out with the death of Anansi, or at least the American Southeast's version of Anansi, since in the American Gods universe, people bring their gods with them, and there are multiple copies roaming different geographic areas. This Anansi leaves a son, called Fat Charlie, to continue his life. That's not all that hard, since Fat Charlie is extremely embarassed by Anansi and haslittle contact with him. I can sympathize. My father loves to sing, especially in public, and couldn't hold a tune in a bucket. I don't think I'd go so far as to shun him for it, but hey, he didn't give me a nickname like Fat Charlie, either. Through the course of the book, Charlie discovers many things about his family, including the existance of a brother, of sorts, called Spider, who gets everyone into no end of trouble. It's up to Charlie to fix things in the end. Isn't that always the way, with family?

But the narrative isn't nearly as important as the subtext in this book. We create our own gods, who then interbreed with us, and thus, we create ourselves. Thus are mortality and godhood blended together. And that's not the only blurring of dichotomous lines. Spider and Fat Charlie seem to be polar opposites, but share more than either of them know. There are hundreds of other examples, both great and small.

So why do I call it a love story, above all else? Because everything that happens throughout the entire book is due to love, in one way or another. The love of a father for his son, or vice versa. The love a brother for his sibling, even when he doesn't deserve it. The love between men and women, both living and dead. Even greed, the love of money, comes into play. So, to me at least, there are two strong themes. "Love is a powerful thing" and "Nothing is as cut and dried as it seems".

Both are good messages, I believe. Now, where's that lime...


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