(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 30, 2005)
"Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect one another, each to each."
"'Course, all stories are Anansi stories. Even this one."
Fat Charlie's life is about to turn upside down. It all starts ordinarily enough; Rosie, his fiancée, suggests that he invite his father to their wedding. He hasn't seen his roguish father since his mother was in the hospital dying. Even then his father managed to embarrass him, something he's been doing ever since Charlie can remember and is positive it will happen at his wedding if invited. Fat Charlie isn't even fat -- it's just a nickname his father gave him and like everything that his father does or says, it has stuck with him for a lifetime. You could say that Fat Charlie Nancy has huge father issues.
Like any other young man who is about to marry, he does what his fiancée asks and calls the only person who is likely to know where his father is, his childhood next door neighbor old Mrs. Higgler. It turns out that his father has recently died (embarrassingly while on a karoke stage) and the funeral is about to take place so Fat Charlie goes on leave from his job and jumps on a plane from England to Florida.
Some 4000 miles later, a couple wrong turns in the rental car, and the fact that the "garden of rest" is located behind a Walmart, Charlie misses the funeral service, but Mrs. Higgler has saved "a shoveful of dirt" for him to say his goodbye. Actually, she sent the gravedigger home and saved the whole task for Charlie to do. After he buries his father, they go back to Mrs. Higgler's home for some food. He's too late again. All of his father's drinking buddies are out drinking. The group of old neighbor ladies are packing away the food in tupperware. Though these ladies do insist on giving him a pile-high plate to help him in his grief.
"Mrs. Higgler was older than Mrs. Bustamonte, and both of them were older than Miss Noles, and none of them was older than Mrs. Dunwiddy. Mrs Dunwiddy was old, and she looked it. There were geological ages that were probably younger than Mrs. Dunwiddy. As a boy, Fat Charlie imagined Mrs. Dunwiddy in Equatorial Africa, peering disapprovingly through her thick spectacles at the newly erect hominids."
Later that afteroon when they are at his father's house, Mrs. Higgler tells him two shocking bits of information. First, when she claims his father was a busy man, Charlie thinks she's got to be joking, the man never worked a day of his life, he was bad husband and a bad father. But Mrs. Higgler reprimands him and says that you can't judge him like a regular man, "You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god." Convinced that Mrs. Higgler is crazy, he points out that would make him a son of a god, so why doesn't he have special powers? He is so unlucky, he has never even won a measly work lottery. And, in all seriousness, she drops the second bit of news, "Your brother got all the god stuff." Fat Charlie doesn't remember having a brother.
If you have read American Gods, then you already guessed that Fat Charlie's father is the trickster Anansi, originally a West African spider-god. Yes, gods do really die (at least for awhile) and Mr. Nancy is in a Florida grave. This story is about his boys, but like all stories it is still Anansi's, and like many of his tales, Tiger is involved. "It wasn't the first time Tiger was made a fool of by Anansi, and it wouldn't be the last time," as the narrator states after telling us one of the many traditional-style Anansi fables. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Mrs. Higgler tells Charlie that if he wants to meet this brother, then just tell a spider.
She didn't warn him of the consequences.
So he tells a spider, "If you see my brother, tell him he ought to come by and say hello." He has a dream that he is somebody he always wanted to be and the next morning, the doorbell rings and Charlie is face-to-face with a man he recognizes but has never met. His brother introduces himself as Spider, follows Charlie upstairs to his apartment and Charlie simply accepts the impossible. "Impossible things happen. When they do happen, most people just deal with it."
Spider is everthing that Charlie is not. In the same way that his father has always embarrassed him, Spider is always pushing forth mischief and mayhem and all aspects of Charlie's life are affected: his apartment, his job and the final straw, Rosie. Spider is actually dating Rosie. Only Rosie doesn't know he isn't Charlie. She's just surprised how much she likes Charlie all of a sudden; that she never really noticed him like this before.
So Charlie decides to seek the help of the four old ladies in Florida. He assumes if Mrs. Higgler knew how to call his brother, then she must know how to get rid of him. Things are not that easy and he ends up on the otherside making a deal that he shouldn't. And that's when events really go astray.
Anansi Boys is a much lighter read than American Gods, though that might have more to do with which god is at the center of each story. Certainly, Mr. Nancy is a trickster and any story with him would be lighter (but don't mistake this for being without depth). Odin, the central god in American Gods, is the god of war and death; naturally that book is darker, though in my opinion, entirely readable, as Odin is also the god of poetry and wisdom. It is to Gaiman's credit that the tone of each novel is fitting to its god.
You certainly do not need to read American Gods first, but once you read Anansi Boys, you will want to pick up American Gods. I can attest to that since I read Anansi Boys first (a fast engrossing read on the long flight to China) and then dug right into American Gods (a slower read with many quotable quotes worth a re-read or as I joked as to why I hadn't finished it during the long flight home "it has a lot of words." It really is a great, great book; highly recommended). I don't think I have to say anything to anyone who did read American Gods, as you have probably have already read Anansi Boys by now or at least have it on your personal holiday wish list. I can't imagine that you'll want to wait until it comes out in paperback. Anansi Boys is serious fun.
- Amazon readers rating: from 236 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Anansi Boys at the author's website
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 02, 2002)
Wednesday needs Shadow as a bodyguard, because theres a war brewing between the old gods that people brought with them to America and the new American gods of technology and media. Shadow finds himself in a strange world -- where roadside attractions are sacred places, and where the dead dont always stay dead. Laura comes back, and her desperation to pass for alive in a decaying body combined with her determination to help her husband is strangely moving. Their relationship is odd, because despite her death and her flatly honest, almost harsh comments about Shadow (for who cares about tact, when youre dead?) they really do love each other, and Shadow spends much of his time trying to figure out how to bring her back.
There are many plot twists, such as a murder mystery in the too perfect town that Shadow finds himself staying in, and many small short stories that, rather than distracting one from the action, add to the story. The true joys of this book lie in the characterization -- it makes perfect sense that members of the Egyptian pantheon should have opened a funeral Parlor in Cairo, Illinois, and different mythological figures are done well and interestingly, although even those expert in mythology might want their encyclopedia of myth close by. Recognizing the different cultural myths of America can also be fun - such as Jonny Apple Seed and the myth of the Government Conspiracy.
Those who read and enjoyed Stardust might not like this book - while Stardust was light and gentle with a heavily romantic plot, American Gods is far darker, bleaker, more film noir than fairy tale. I often read books for well-done male characters, and I loved Shadow - hes big, but hes not the stereotypical big, dumb guy. Hes intelligent, quiet, and has a determination that I enjoy. I admit, his wife saves him a few times too often, but the fact that Shadow experiences all of these strange happenings without really batting an eyelash is very refreshing.
Amazon readers rating: from 828 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from American Gods at MostlyFiction.com
"The Wolves in the Walls"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 21, 2003)
"Im sure its not wolves," said her mother. "For you know what they say...if the wolves come out of the walls, then its all over."
Lucy knows better, though. She might not know who "they" are, but she is absolutely certain that there are wolves scrabbling and crawling around the walls of her parents old house. Unfortunately, no one...not her parents, or her brother, believe her. They are much more inclined toward rodents, or bats...
Until one day, the wolves do come out of the walls, and its up to one very brave little girl to prove to her family that they can reclaim their home.
I wasnt sure how well Id like this book...sure, its Neil Gaiman, with art by the admirable Dave McKean, but Im a (not going to tell you) year-old woman who likes to joke about how much kids scare her. What connection would I have?
I neednt have worried. I found this book completely engaging. Lucy is the sort of heroine any of us would like to be. Brave and loyal, she doesnt think twice about sneaking in to get her pig puppet, she just knows she has to, both because she doesnt like to think of what terrible things the wolves were doing to it, and because her mother threatened to give her a new one. Lucys also the only voice of common sense. These traits combined make her wholly accessible to everyone. I think kids will definitely feel comfortable with her and admire her smart sensibility, while the parents will wonder if they were half that well put together at her age.
Gaiman also crafts a strong story that stands up well by itself...just scary and interesting enough, we cant help but have complete confidence in Lucy, and in the story teller.
The art is fabulous. Dave McKean uses many of the techniques hes famous for, combining art with photography in a way that captures the feel of the piece as well as the feel of a childrens book. The clouds swirl beautifully, the brass of her fathers trombone sparkles the way brass does in dreams. It adds to the charm and slightly surreal nature of the story perfectly. Some people think the wolves are too scary...but I think theyre perfect. They are definitely wolfy things, but scary in that sort of way I loved to find things as a kid...just enough to give you a tingle in the spine. And if you get too scared of them, you just look over at the ones wearing socks on their ears, or playing the trombone...and that pretty much takes them from the realm of scary to the silly. You need them to be a little frightful, anyway...I mean, if theyre fluffy little things, Lucys bravery doesnt really make sense.
Also, the text is well rendered, very clear, emphasizing the words wonderfully, using different fonts and sizes with precision to create mood as well as underlining meaning.
Its fall now, as I write this, and I live in an old house, myself. At night I hear "hustling noises and bustling noises" and I wonder, is it really squirrels or mice or maybe even an bat in my attic?
Well, just to be sure, Ill leave out the jelly and toast.
- Amazon readers rating: from 64 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Neverwhere (1997)
- Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions (1998)
- Stardust (1999)
- American Gods (2001) /
- Anansi Boys (2005)
- Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (2006)
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane (June 2013)
Co-authored with Terry Pratchett:
- Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (with Terry Pratchett) (1990)
Not-Just-For Children's books (illustrated with David McKean):
- The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (1997)
- Coraline (July 2002)
- The Wolves in the Walls (August 2003)
- The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch (November 2006)
- M is for Magic (June 2007)
- The Dangerous Alphabet (April 2008)
- The Graveyard Book (September 2008) Newbury Award Winner
- Crazy Hair (May 2009)
More Children's books (various illustrators):
- The Dangerous Alphabet (April 2008)
- Blueberry Girl (March 2009)
- Odd Frost Giants (September 2009)
- Instructions (April 2010)
- The Dangerous Alphabet (July 2010)
The Sandman Series:
- Preludes and Nocturnes (Book 1)
- The Doll's House (Book 2)
- Dream Country (Book 3)
- Season of Mists (Book 4)
- A Game of You (Book 5)
- Fables and Reflections (Book 6)
- Brief Lives (Book 7)
- World's End (Book 8)
- The Kindly Ones (Book 9)
- The Wake (Book 10)
Other graphic novels:
- Signal to Noise (1992)
- The Books of Magic (1993)
- The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch: A Romance (1995)
- Black Orchid (1996)
- Violent Cases (1998)
- Don't Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman (May 2004)
- Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman (April 2013)
- Neverwhere (2003)
- Neil Gaiman's A Short Film About John Bolton (2003)
- Mirrormask (2005)
- Stardust (2007)
- Coraline (2009)
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- Official Web site for Neil Gaiman
- The Dreaming: Neil Gaiman fan site
- Mr. Bobo's Remarkable Mouse Circus
- January Magazine interview with Neil Gaiman
- Writers Write interview with Neil Gaiman
- Reading Guide for Neverwhere
- CNN.com review of Neverwhere
- CNN.com interview with Neil Gaiman and Stardust
- Reading Guide for American Gods
- Salon.com review of American Gods
- CNN.com chat with Neil Gaiman on American Gods
- PopMatters.com review of American Gods
- CNN.com's long article on Neil Gaiman and American Gods
- Reading Guide for Coraline
- USA Today review of Coraline
- SF Gate review of Coraline
- CS Monitor review of Coraline
- SFFWorld.com review of Anansi Boys
- Salon.com review of Anansi Boys
- Three Monkeys on Anansi Boys
- The Onion review of Anansi Boy
- Excerpt from Fragile Things
- BlogCritics review of Fragile Things
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About the Author:
Neil Gaiman is acclaimed as the award-winning creator/writer of DC Comics' Sandman series, called by Norman Mailer "a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time." With Terry Pratchett he co-wrote the international bestseller Good Omens, soon to be a major motion picture directed by Terry Gilliam. His 6-part TV series for the BBC, Neverwhere, was broadcast in 1996, and in 1998 he wrote the English-language script for Miyazaki's record-breaking Japanese film Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke), which was released by Miramax in 1999. His first book for children, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, illustrated by his long-time artistic collaborator Dave McKean, was listed by Newsweek as one of the best Children's Books of 1997. He has won numerous international awards, including the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novel for American Gods, and is beloved by readers world-wide.
Born in England, he now makes his home in near Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Visit Neil Gaiman's site for a very full biography of his twenty years as a writer