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‘Anansi Boys’ contains serious message hidden beneath folly

Dorman T. Shindler Newhouse News Service

Readers who enjoyed “American Gods,” Neil Gaiman’s award-winning 2001 novel, will love “Anansi Boys,” a sequel of sorts. And those who haven’t yet encountered Gaiman’s writing should prepare to be dazzled by his rich storytelling and boundless imagination.

“American Gods” used elements of fantasy, horror and crime fiction to spin a tale of ancient gods living among humans while vying for a comeback. “Anansi Boys” is equally eclectic, employing fantasy, a touch of horror, a bit of crime fiction and a whole lot of screwball comedy.

Charlie Nancy (who still lives with his youthful nickname, “Fat Charlie,” despite losing his childhood chub) travels from London to his Florida hometown to attend the funeral of his estranged father. Once there, Charlie learns his father was actually the ancient West African trickster god Anansi, whose true form is that of an arachnid. Unable to deal with this strange revelation, Charlie returns to London only to meet his heretofore unknown brother.

The brother, Spider, not only inherited some of their father’s godlike abilities, he got all of the wit, charm and appetite for causing trouble. Spider gets his brother fired from his job, arrested for embezzlement and brought under suspicion of murder – all while stealing Charlie’s fiancee away from him.

And when Charlie sets out to seek revenge – employing dark magic – he learns some extraordinary truths about himself. Those revelations bring him closer to Spider as the sons engage in a struggle with another deity intent on destroying their family.

At first blush, all the chaos in Gaiman’s story seems to have no more significance than quips fired pell-mell in a Marx Brothers movie, but attentive readers will find a serious message hidden in the madness – that despite all of our differences, whether they be political or ethnic, we are all members of the same family, and those bonds should never be broken over petty disagreements.

“Anansi Boys” is seriously good fun, and Gaiman has once again proved he’s one of the new century’s most talented fabulists.

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