Although Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys is set in the same world as his American Gods and shares a common (minor) character, that’s about as far as the resemblance goes.
American Gods is dark and epic, centering on a war between the old gods brought to America by various immigrants and the new gods created by less-devout forces like TV and capitalism. The main character is named Shadow, and the stakes are high, even in the subplot, which concerns a supernatural serial killer preying on the children of a small town.
Anansi Boys is lighter fare, a tale about long-separated family members reuniting, squabbling, and then working together to defeat a common foe. The main character is named Fat Charlie, and the chapter titles are whimsical (for example, “Chapter Eight: In Which a Pot of Coffee Comes in Particularly Useful”).
But there are still plenty of gods. Fat Charlie and his brother Spider are the sons of Mr. Nancy, a version of the West African trickster-deity Anansi. His death at the beginning of the book sets the plot in motion and leads Fat Charlie to learn more about the powers he inherited from his father.
There’s also a big idea. American Gods suggests that people create gods by believing in them. Anansi Boys wonders if clever stories make for clever people. “People take on the shapes of the songs and stories that surround them,” one of the characters declares near the end of the book. The first stories “began in tears, and they’d end in blood.” But when stories with “wit and trickery and wisdom” came along, “people aren’t just thinking of hunting and being hunted anymore. Now they’re starting to think their way out of problems.”
I don’t know if I’m smarter for having read Anansi Boys. And it didn’t grab me initially—the lower stakes and leisurely opening delayed my interest. I was amused by the end, though, and I appreciated the different tone and take of this not-quite sequel to American Gods.
Not every tangent is worth following, but Gaiman’s usually are. Fun stuff.
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