Anansi Boys Review – Denver Post, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch

From the September 25th Denver Post:

Having made his name writing comics (the award-winning Sandman titles for DC), where literati are concerned, Neil Gaiman came out of left field, taking best-seller lists by surprise. Novels such as Neverwhere, Stardust and 2001’s American Gods have only added to his reputation. And his talent stretches to the field of children’s literature as well: The Day I Traded My Dad for Two Goldfish, Wolves in the Walls and the young adult novella, Coraline, have become best sellers, garnering their fair share of awards as well.

So it’s no surprise to learn that Anansi Boys, a companion novel to American Gods, which won the Nebula, Hugo and Bram Stoker awards, has been highly awaited by legions of fans. It is no surprise, either, to find that Anansi Boys, while quite different from its companion novel, is just as well-written and just as likely to win a passel of awards.

Where American Gods used the elements of fantasy, horror and crime to impart a tale of ancient Gods living among humans and vying for a comeback, Anansi Boys employs fantasy, a touch of horror, a bit of crime and a whole lot of screwball comedy. At times, it seems as if Gaiman is channeling the spirits of writers like P.G. Wodehouse or the zany creations of ‘Tex’ Avery, both of whom are thanked in the dedication.

Protagonist Charlie Nancy, who still lives with his youthful nickname, ‘Fat Charlie,’ despite losing his childhood chubbiness, returns to Florida to attend the funeral of his estranged father. There Charlie learns that his father was actually the ancient West African trickster god Anansi, whose true form is that of an arachnid.

Unable to deal with this strange revelation, Charlie returns to London only to find he has a heretofore unknown brother. The brother, Spider, not only inherited some of their father’s godlike abilities, he got all of the wit, charm and appetite for causing trouble. Spider gets his brother fired from his job, arrested for embezzlement and brought under suspicion for murder, all while stealing Charlie’s fiance, Rosie, away from him.

When Charlie sets about the task of seeking revenge – employing dark magic – he learns some extraordinary truths about himself. Those revelations bring him closer to Spider as the two engage in a struggle with another ancient deity intent on exacting vengeance and destroying their family.

Like the dancing of Fred Astaire or the timing of great comedians, writing good screwball comedy is a task that can seem far too easy when, in truth, it is anything but. It takes a talented and insightful writer to pull it off. Not many contemporary writers can – Harlan Ellison and Colorado’s own Connie Willis are the only two genre writers that immediately come to mind – but, apparently, there isn’t much Gaiman can’t do when it comes to writing.

Anansi Boys is one of the finest screwball comedies to come down the pike since Willis’ ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog.’ Except when Gaiman does screwball comedy, he mixes in liberal doses of horror and crime. What’s more, he finds time to lay down a moral lesson about the strength of families and the essential difference in various races and ethnicities that is vital to the continuation of the human species – but not at the expense of the thrilling, spooky and wondrous tale that is the driving force behind this remarkable and entertaining book.
–Dorman T. Shindler


From the September 25th St Louis Post-Dispatch

Readers who enjoyed American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s 2001 award- winning novel, will fall madly in love with Anansi Boys, a companion novel of sorts. For those who haven’t yet encountered Gaiman — whose film collaboration with Dave McKean, MirrorMask, debuts Friday — prepare to experience a writer imbued with rich storytelling qualities and a boundless imagination.

Where American Gods used elements of fantasy, horror and crime fiction to impart a tale of ancient gods who were vying for a comeback, Anansi Boys employs fantasy, a touch of horror, a bit of crime fiction and a whole lot of screwball comedy. At times, it seems as if Gaiman is channeling the spirits of writers such as P.G. Wodehouse or the zany creations of “Tex” Avery — both of whom are thanked in the dedication.

Protagonist Charlie Nancy (who still lives with his youthful nickname, “Fat Charlie,” despite losing weight), returns to Florida to attend the funeral of his estranged father. Once there, Charlie learns that his father was actually the ancient, West African trickster god Anansi, whose true form is that of an arachnid. Unable to deal with this strange revelation, Charlie returns to London only to find he has a heretofore-unknown brother. That brother, Spider, not only inherited some of their father’s godlike abilities, he got all of the wit, charm and appetite for causing trouble.

Spider gets his brother fired from his job, arrested for embezzlement and brought under suspicion of murder — all while stealing Charlie’s fiancee away from him. And when Charlie sets about the task of seeking revenge — employing dark magic — he learns some extraordinary truths about himself. Those revelations bring him closer to Spider as the sons engage in a struggle with another deity intent on destroying their family.

Though it all seems to dance about like water on a hot griddle, Gaiman eventually makes the various elements (witches, half-animal creatures, romance, mystery, fantasy) fall into an understandable rhythm that gets to the heart of his story line. As John Irving once put it, despite the differences and individual quirks, every family is, to its individual members, “as normal as the smell of bread.” And once strong, familial bonds are formed, they can be as strong as tungsten steel.
–Dorman T. Shindler