Picking Apart Anansi Boys

Yes, I am on a Neil Gaiman kick, if you’re wondering. Today, I’d like to pick apart Anansi Boys, book two of American Gods.

While this is book 2, I highly advise reading it before reading book one, simply titled American Gods. I ended up reading them out of order, and I’m really glad I did. While Anansi Boys is a great book, it lacks the depth and wonderment of American Gods. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book as much if I’d been expecting an actual sequel.

I will soon be picking apart American Gods if you’re wondering. But today, let’s talk about Anansi Boys.

Our main character, Fat Charlie.

Unlike Coraline, which we picked apart last week, Anansi Boys is very much a character driven story. While the death of Fat Charlie’s father is the catalyst, the rest of what happened would never have happened if the main character hadn’t decided to act. I tend to prefer character driven stories. I prefer believing that I’m in control of my own damn self.

Anyway, Fat Charlie, who isn’t really fat at all, is an American living in England. He’s getting engaged to a woman named Rosie, working at a place he hates for an evil man, and pretty much getting by. His fiance doesn’t really like him that much. His boss doesn’t really like him that much. He, in fact, doesn’t really like himself that much.

I, in fact, didn’t like him that much. He was a sad sack, and I lack patience for that sort of person. But he becomes endearing, once we meet his brother, Spider. Because once you meet Spider, you can’t help but feel bad for anyone who has to deal with him long term.

Spider, the brother

Spider is a really fun character. He does what he wants when he wants, and with very little concern for how that might affect anyone around him. I didn’t like Spider, and I don’t think we’re supposed to. But I did like reading about Spider. I see this sort of character a lot. The selfish ass hat who acts abhorrent, but does so in such a way that it’s entertaining to watch him act abhorrent. The two of them have been separated since they were children. Spider remembers, Fat Charlie doesn’t. There’s never an explanation of what Spider did when he was sent away, or of how their mother reacted to this. It’s something that’s left up to the reader’s imagination. Which is part of the strange web of storytelling that made this book so fascinating.

Telling, not showing, but in the best way possible.

Much like with Coraline, I finished reading Anansi Boys and was left with questions. Which I found amazing because, when the book starts, Gaiman does all of the telling and none of the showing.

He tells you that Rosie doesn’t really like Fat Charlie. He tells you that he hates his life, resents his father and any number of other things. He tells you that Fat Charlie’s boss is an evil, horrible person. He tells you that Spider usually thinks about Spider and only Spider. He tells you, flat out, as Spider and Fat Charlie start to change their attitudes in life.

But let’s be fair. Anyone reading my description of the characters could have told you that the boss would be evil, Charlie would learn to stand up for himself and Spider would learn to think of others. This wasn’t a huge shock. These aren’t unique things, they happen in a lot of books. Generally, if someone is a sad sack or an asshole, they’ll be brave or humble by the end of the book. So what in the hell would be the point of showing, not telling that? Just say it and get the hell on with the story.

What the book doesn’t tell you, what I’d like to know, is if Charlie is the new Anansi. How long will Mr. Nancy, their father, stay out of the boy’s lives? I have other questions, lots of them. But if you haven’t read the book, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

If you’ve never read Anansi Boys, I suggest you read it twice. Read it once to experience it, because it’s a good story well told. Then, read it again as a writer, as a lesson. Because the more I read Gaiman, the more I realize that he has a lot to teach me.

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