Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an Anansi story. Anansi stories have been around for a long time and it might be an area I’m going to have to look into since I’ve been analyzing fairy tales and all. Anansi is a spider, but he’s also not a spider. He’s a god, but he’s a trickster. He’s not your normal run-of-the-mill divinity.
This story is about his son(s).
Fat Charlie hates the nickname Fat Charlie, but his father dubbed him Fat Charlie many years before and he just couldn’t get rid of the name. His father had once dubbed a prize-winning dog “Goofy” and the name stuck. Everyone went around calling this once-esteemed dog Goofy for the rest of its life. Charlie has moved on. His mother sent his father packing many years before. Fat Charlie’s mother died a few years previously, so he’s been alone, but not entirely. He has a fiance. Her name is Rosie. Rosie doesn’t want to have sex with Fat Charlie until they’re married. Fat Charlie works for a job he hates. He’s actually been there longer than anyone else, except the owner, and Fat Charlie has only been there one year and eleven months.
At Rosie’s insistence, Fat Charlie phones a family friend in an endeavor to locate his father to invite him to the wedding. Fat Charlie manages to get the family friend on the line and it turns out his father is dead. He has to go to Florida for the funeral. Fat Charlie says a few words, gets fed by four elderly women, one of which is a hundred and four years old, then goes back to London, but not before hearing something strange from one of the women. Your father is a god she says. You have a brother she says. If you want to get a hold of him, just talk to a spider. Your father is Anansi.
Fat Charlie thinks this woman is crazy, with good reason, but one night, back in London, he drunkenly asks a spider to tell his brother to stop by. Low and behold, it’s not long before Charlie’s brother shows up. He says to call him Spider and he’s everything that Charlie never was. He’s outgoing, he’s good with people, he gets what he wants and this all makes Charlie feel all the more worse for being Fat Charlie. Fat Charlie isn’t fat by the way. Spider takes Charlie out for wine, women and song upon hearing that their father is dead. Charlie is so hung over the next day that Spider pretends to be Charlie at work. Spider finds some discrepancies in some of the funding at Charlie’s work place that sets in forth an interesting chain of events.
Charlie tries to get rid of Spider. He goes back to the four women in Florida. They perform a strange ritual, with kitchen herbs and four types of earth. Charlie goes into a land that is in-between. There he beseeches a bird lady to get rid of his brother. It turns out to be a big mistake. Flamingos and penguins may look cute, but when they’re all after you, it’s not so funny anymore.
Spider finds that he likes pretending to be Charlie. He likes Charlie’s life. He likes Charlie’s girlfriend. Charlie grows and becomes bolder as the story goes on. Anansi, although dead, tells Charlie that he let people make him who he is today. He could have resisted, but he didn’t. Charlie learns to stand up and be the great man everyone knows he can be.
What I liked
Anansi was such a trickster. I loved how Neil incorporated this traditional folklore in with a modern-day story. The tar-baby is even in there. Who doesn’t love the story about the tar baby?
It’s all fantasy, it really is, but Neil makes it sound so real life. Of course, your half-god brother would show up and steal your fiance. That’s stuff we’ve all got to deal with every day. Hey Bro, mind if I pretend to be you and have sex with your fiance? Nah, go right ahead.
Charlie really changes in this story. He goes from being this loser, and he is a loser, to being awesome. It’s like the whole ugly duckling argument. You might start out not so awesome, but as you learn and grow, you can become pretty awesome. Although, I have known a few people who would have something like reverse ugly-ducking syndrome. They start out all cute, but then they turn into meth-heads. It all goes down hill after they’re voted “Most likely to succeed” in high school and they find out the real world is a lot harder than they anticipated.
I really like how Charlie found himself. He found courage. He found that he’s really worth more than the world has told him previously. That’s always an awesome story. That’s always something great to realize.
What I didn’t like
I thought the book was pretty good. I had this conflicting image in my head the entire book. There were times I imagined Charlie as white, but then there were times I imagined him as black. In all honesty, it’s easier to imagine a white guy being a loser than it is to imagine a guy of any other race being a loser. I don’t know what that says about me, especially considering I’m mostly white. I wasn’t that conflicted about the “loser” point of my statement, that’s just some kind of personal truth or prejudice I have for some reason. Anyway, the language that some of the characters used would indicate that they are immigrants from Africa or some island nations, but then you think, “They know Charlie and Charlie really doesn’t seem like the kind of person who has friends of many races.” That’s just kind of how Charlie comes across to me in the beginning. He seems like this very bland, vanilla, sort of person.
Charlie is bland in the beginning, he is. I know it’s terrible that when I think of bland people I think specifically of people who are white; I don’t know why that is, but people would call that being “vanilla.” As the book progresses, I can see Charlie being African. It becomes more believable as the book goes on. It would only make sense that Charlie would be African because Anansi is an African tradition.
If Charlie were of African descent, I think his fiance’s mother’s dislike of him becomes a little more clear. It is sad to say, that there are people who will look at you and pass judgement upon you because of your race, even today, maybe even me since I apparently think white people are boring. I would find it completely understandable, well maybe understandable isn’t the word I want, maybe apt, if Rosie’s mother was a little old-fashioned and didn’t approve of mixed-race relationships. Even though Charlie is quite boring and vanilla in the beginning of the book, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with him. He’s got a job. He has an apartment. He pays his bills. He’s nice. He’s not prone to excess. He’s seems like an alright guy for a girl to be marrying. So the dislike coming from her mother doesn’t seem to have a basis.
It kind of caught me off guard that I thought white people were so boring.
If you like Neil, you’ve got to read this book.