A Not So Itsy Bitsy Spider: Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys coverBoy, have I been in a reading rut recently. You know, where you read a lot of books, and they’re all okay, or pretty good, but nothing that makes you flip over the last page and close the cover with a satisfied sigh. Well, I finally broke through the rut with Neil Gaiman‘s Anansi Boys (2005). This was a book that was pure fun to read from the first page to the last.

Its central character is Fat Charlie Nancy, a man who was dubbed with his nickname in childhood by no less than his father. You know when you have a book whose father delights in practical jokes, and drops dead on a karaoke stage while grasping a buxom woman’s top, that this is a book worth reading. Even more so when Charlie finds out that his father was not your normal, run-of-the-mill embarrassing dad, but Anansi, the spider-trickster god from West African mythology.

The characters are imbued with such a three-dimensional sense, that they appear to be direct descendants of some of Stephen King‘s best characters. The story too is invested with a wealth of detail so that the reader has no trouble jumping in to the thick of the text. Consider this short excerpt from the first chapter:

There was a dog who had lived in the house across the way, in the Florida street on which Fat Charlie had grown up. It was a chestnut-colored boxer, long-legged and pointy-eared with a face that looked like the beast had, as a puppy, run face-first into a wall. Its head was raised, its tail nub erect. It was, unmistakably, an aristocrat among canines. It had entered dog shows. It had rosettes for Best of Breed and for Best in Class and even one rosette marked Best in Show. This dog rejoiced in the name Campbell’s Macinrory Arbuthnot the Seventh, and its owners, when they were feeling familiar, called it Kai. This lasted until the day that Fat Charlie’s father, sitting out on their dilapidated porch swing, sipping his beer, noticed the dog as it ambled back and forth across the neighbor’s yard, on a leash that ran from a palm tree to a fence post.

“Hell of a goofy dog,” said Fat Charlie’s father. “Like that friend of Donald Duck’s. Hey Goofy.”

This excerpt has nothing to do with the plot; it’s a throwaway anecdote that illustrates that once Fat Charlie’s dad named something, it stuck. But in a benefit to the reader, the vividness of detail and comic tone is maintained through the entire book, from the secondary background to the main story arc. It truly is pure fun to read.

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