Neil Gaiman wears many hats. He wrote the stunningly devised Sandman graphic novel series. He has dabbled in the film world, most recently with the beautiful and mesmerizing Mirrormask. And he has won awards for his written work, both in adult science fiction/fantasy and in his books for children. He is an artist so inventive and worldly that his product often cannot be categorized easily. In fact, the kudos displayed on the back of his recent book, ANANSI BOYS, brings high praise from authors whose realms Gaiman frequents but never stays in --- Susanna Clarke (fiction/fantasy), Christopher Moore (humorous fiction), and Peter Straub (horror). It is this cross-section of the literature world that easily exemplifies what you will find within the covers of this eagerly awaited new novel.
While Gaiman has produced a string of quality work, it was 1991's AMERICAN GODS that blew away critics and readers worldwide. Now he has returned to the universe of AMERICAN GODS yet spins a tale that is not a clear sequel but more of a snippet of a life plucked and set on its own stage. And it certainly produces.
Mr. Nancy is Fat Charlie's dad. He is also the African trickster god, Anansi. When Mr. Nancy dies, estranged Charlie flies to Florida to pay his respects, having never known that his father was more than just an annoying man with the ability to make his life miserable. Things go wrong, as they always do for Charlie, and after learning of his father's otherworldly power, he also discovers that he has a brother. The only way he can meet him is to summon him, and to do so he must ask a spider to bring him by the house. Disbelieving, as any logical person would, Charlie speaks to a spider and requests his brother to come by.
Imagine Charlie's surprise when his brother, Spider, stops by, bringing with him a series of downward spirals that hurl Charlie headlong into disaster. With the world on the precipice of doom, Charlie seeks help to enter the spirit world and set right all that has begun to go wrong.
Gaiman's true gift in his writing is his ability to take normal everyday people like Charlie and his fiancee and put them in outlandish and remarkable situations. Although there may not be a trickster god wandering the streets right now, Gaiman, through his masterful writing, makes you believe in this world he has woven around you. Before you know what has happened, you are in as much trouble as Fat Charlie, and it is your human self that connects with Charlie as he struggles to make amends.
All of this is done with stunning vision and clarity, at breakneck speed that does not hamper the telling of the tale. A work of compelling quality, ANANSI BOYS is equal parts humorous, terrifying, adventurous, and epic in the standard mythological style. Yet, for its epic scope, it is an intimate story about the beauty, and danger, of family.
Side by side together, AMERICAN GODS and ANANSI BOYS are beautiful and brilliant works that leave you hoping Gaiman will not take too long in returning to the world in which he has so richly enveloped us.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on December 22, 2010