Monday, September 28, 2009

Threads of the Story – Anansi Boys

I think I mentioned this when I did my blog about “Stardust”, but I really like Neil Gaiman’s concepts for his books. He obviously loves mythology about as much as I do, he seems fascinated with storytelling, and he had no problem mixing the surreal and the humorous together with fantasy and horror. All in all it should be the perfect mix. However all three of his previous novels, “Stardust”, “Neverwhere” and “American Gods” never quite clicked for me. In all three cases it was because of the protagonist. I never connected with the main character and instead kept wanting the book to be about the supporting cast (who were all amazingly colorful.

Well Gaiman bucked his trend in “Anansi Boys”. Not only does he create a leading character that pulled me in, but the entire story was a blast to read. Our hero is a typical sad sack character with the unfortunate name of Fat Charlie. The story starts with an explanation of why Fat Charlie is called Fat Charlie, even though he’s not fat.

The story goes like this, Fat Charlie was given the nickname by his father. We’re told that once his father gives anything a nick name – it sticks forever. So even though Charlie was a little pudgy kid that grew out of his husky state; he remained Fat Charlie to everyone he knew. This little story nugget establishes several key points right off the bat.

First off Fat Charlie didn’t get to pick his name, it was forced upon him. And pretty quickly we see that Fat Charlie has a lot of things in life forced on him. Sometimes he minds, sometimes he doesn’t, but there is nothing he can do about it. Life does things to Charlie and he reacts. And since life seems obsessed with giving him crap, Charlie’s always seems down on his luck or just surviving his existence.

Second we learn that Fat Charlie’s dad has no problem calling his son “fat”, and making sure that everyone else calls him “fat”. Right there you learn enough about the father to understand why Fat Charlie doesn’t like the man. But there is more to the story and it becomes apparent that Fat Charlie’s going to have to come to grips with his father.

The story continues along its merry way, introducing a mysterious sibling, a bit of magic involving spiders, and an ordinary lime that just might save the day. Because we like Charlie and feel bad for the guy (nothing seems to go his way no matter what he tries), the story carries you along, just waiting to see if Charlie is going to manage on the up side of things. Gaiman does a good job with the character and developing him over the course of the novel. Fat Charlie is not the same man at the end of the book, but after all his adventures – I’d be a little different too.

If asked what kind of book this was, I’d find it hard to place. It’s almost like a fantasy tale told in modern times. There is magic, there are gods meddling in human affairs, there’s lost siblings, lost loves and murderous corporate a-holes. You get a little bit of everything. But the book is always entertaining and has quite a few laughs in it. I especially liked the bit about the lime. I’ll never look at that little green citrus the same way again.

So all in all, “Anansi Boys” was a great read and one I’d definitely recommend. It’s my favorite of Gaiman’s novels, and a good place to start if you haven’t read any of his short fiction (which I also recommend). It’s good to see him finally create a protagonist I could connect with and one that I wanted to follow on his journey. Gaiman has never lacked for imagination and skill with creating worlds and supporting characters. This time the whole package is very satisfying.

Have you read “Anansi Boys”? What did you think of it? What did you think of Gaiman’s other work? Do you have a favorite “down on their luck” protagonist?

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