Monday, August 31, 2009

Cha-aar-lie the Spi-i-der

I continue my years-long Neil Gaiman kick with Anansi Boys, a quasi sequel to his amazing American Gods.
The verdict? It's good, but a step down. I have no particular complaints - the characters, plot, setting, and theme are all excellent as always, and the writing continues to be strong - but it didn't beat me over the head with its awesomeness like American Gods did.


Part of the problem is that the scope of the story is smaller. I mean, American Gods was EPIC. You had every deity ever, shaken together and stirred and drained into the morass of middle America, brought to the brink of annihilation by a perverse Ragnarok. And mysterious identities, a range of locations, layered plot... all cool stuff that kept the energy going.

Anansi Boys is just a smaller scope. It's mainly concerned with the legacy of one particular deity from American Gods, Anansi the Spider. In contrast to the primarily (though by no means exclusively!) European/Middle-Eastern pantheons of AG, AB focuses on a sort of animist African/Carribbean pantheon of animal gods. Spider, Tiger, and Bird are the most important. It feels more like the working-out of old grudges than anything else.

Again, that scope isn't bad... AB looks at the intersection between the supernatural and the human world. AG was about decay; AB is more about... evolution, maybe? The two main characters, Fat Charlie and Spider, are children of Anansi, and each follows their own path before being thrown in together. It's more focused on small moments and relationships, and basic emotions like jealousy, fear, greed, compassion, sympathy, and pity.

Gaiman does make a gesture towards the end at transforming this into a Big Plot. We're meant to believe that, if the bad guys win, all human imagination will turn away from delight and creativity, and plunge into hatred and fear. Maybe? I sort of had a hard time buying it... again, after seeing the huge range of gods on display in AG, it's a bit hard to believe that what happens to a single demigod would really have such huge effects.

I need to say some nice things... Fat Charlie is an excellent character. I like the humor of the book, which is mainly character-driven. Gaiman did do a good job at subverting my expectations; a couple of plot points were obvious in advance, but on the whole I did not expect the book to take all the turns that it did. A couple of scenes, particular those with Bird, were nicely ominous and frightening. I dug Monkey - would have liked to see more of him.


I realize it sounds like I'm ragging on the book, when I don't mean to at all. It's good. Read it if you like Gaiman. Just don't expect another American Gods.

Since reading the book, I have learned that many people strongly prefer the audiobook version to the printed one.  I generally avoid audiobooks, but in this case I can see it making a positive difference.  Anansi comes from the oral tradition, and it makes perfect sense that this story would adapt well to the cadences and intonations that you get from a talented storyteller.  I'll definitely try that if I circle this way again.

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