I did not have high hopes for this one.
I tried very hard to read American Gods because everyone on the international Intertubular Electronic Informational Exchangeatron stated that he was the cat’s ass and that Sandman was better than a blowjob. Truth of the matter was, I didn’t see the big deal. When I saw him being interviewed on TV I thought he was pretending to be Fonzie with a word processor. So, I bought American Gods in hardcover. I think I got through two, maybe three chapters. Nothing he wrote got my fancy.
I let him go by and I heard about Anansi Boys and I read somewhere where there was an interview with him where he came close to acknowledging that his writing style was not accessible to everyone and he used the lessons he learned from writing on his blog and reading the comments of his readers to change the way that he wrote. Okay, I thought. Fonzie found a little humility.
But damned if I was forking over big bucks for the hardcover. Not even in a used bookstore. I waited for the paperback. And then I forgot what I was waiting for until last week. I bought it, and put it on my reading schedule (yes, I have a reading schedule – he was up against James Lee Burke and Donald Westlake and everyone got bumped by a Stephen King novella). I took it with me when me, my wife, and my inlaws were scheduled to see Tom Jones at Casino Rama, figuring that when the show was over, everyone else would go gamble and I would park myself behind a couple of double whiskeys and read some Anansi Boys – the booze would soften the blow, I thought.
As a side point, those of you who have never seen Tom Jones and you get a chance, please go. Don’t hesitate because you think it is for old people. The man has panache. He was forced to cancel after four songs (bronchitis) but he had me hooked after the second song. He was just so cool up there, in a well tailored suit, dress shirt unbuttoned down almost to the middle of his chest, and a few tasteful gold chains. Hey, I’m not gay, not in the least, but the dude, he was stylin for a sixty nine year old man. And, even with bronchitis, he rocked the mic as best he could. Damnit, I read a week or so ago some modern rocker couldn’t perform because of a sprained wrist or a damaged pinky finger or some such shit. Tom Jones rocks, but he had to cancel.
But, because he had to cancel, I got a chance to sit behind about five or six doubles and read almost all of Anansi Boys. And, I didn’t need to booze to enjoy it. Damned good story.
When you read the intro, take note of who he dedicates it to
NOTE:the author would like to take this opportunity to tip his hat respectfully to the ghosts of Zora Neale Hurston, Thorne Smith, P. G.Wodehouse, and Frederick “Tex” Avery.
Check those guys out on the wiki and see who it is they are and if you can get your head around them, you will enjoy the book much more. They aren’t required reading, necessarily, but if you can’t read P.G. Wodehouse and create an image of Jeeves and Wooster (at the very least, if you can see Fry and Laurie pulling it off) then maybe the humour and the writing of Anansi Boys is lost on you.
Reviews I’ve read say that the book is about a man coming to terms with his relationship with his brother. I don’t agree with that at all. It’s a tale about a man coming to terms with himself by accepting his father for who he is. Because, the main character, Fat Charlie Nancy (Think ‘Anansi’ and then you get the gist of why his surname is Nancy – and he’s Fat because of some childhood pudginess, but as a metaphor, I think it has more to do with him being too much person for one body ; something you’ll understand more when you read the book).
It also has to do with Afro-Caribbean mythology, which is where Anansi comes from. But, even at that, I think that Gaiman might have been touching on the evolution of literature as well. And the reason why I say that is because of a conversation between two characters towards the end of the book.
Anansi is a spider god and he is a trickster. Tiger is a tiger god and he is ferocious and vicious. First, all the stories were Tiger, because that was how people got ahead in life back then – by being mean and ferocious. But, as men got older, they got wiser and used their smarts. That is how Anansi got all the stories back. Anyway, here is the quote.
“You want to hear a story?” asked the old man.
“Not really,” she admitted.
He helped her to her feet, and they walked out of the Garden of Rest.
“Fair enough. Then I’ll keep it short. Not go too long. You know, I can tell one of these stories so it lasts for weeks. It’s all in the details—what you put in, what you don’t. I mean, you leave out the weather and what people are wearing, you can skip half the story. I once told a story—”
“Look,” she said, “if you’re going to tell a story, then just tell it to me, all right?” It was bad enough walking along the side of the road in the gathering dusk. She reminded herself that she wasn’t going to be hit by a passing car, but it did nothing to make her feel more at ease.
The old man started to talk in a gentle sing-song. “When I say ‘Tiger,’ ” he said, “You got to understand it’s not just the stripy cat, the India one. It’s just what people call big cats—the pumas and the bobcats and the jaguars and all of them. You got that?”
“Good. So…a long time ago,” he began, “Tiger had the stories. All the stories there ever were was Tiger stories, all the songs were Tiger songs, and I’d say that all the jokes were Tiger jokes, but there weren’t no jokes told back in the Tiger days. In Tiger stories all that matters is how strong your teeth are, how you hunt and how you kill. Ain’t no gentleness in Tiger stories, no tricksiness, and no peace.”
Maeve tried to imagine what kind of stories a big cat might tell. “So they were violent?”
“Sometimes. But mostly what they was, was bad. When all the stories and the songs were Tiger’s, that was a bad time for everyone. People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song. And in Tiger times all the songs were dark. They began in tears, and they’d end in blood, and they were the only stories that the people of this world knew.
“Then Anansi comes along. Now, I guess you know all about Anansi—”
“I don’t think so,” said Maeve.
“Well, if I started to tell you how clever and how handsome and how charming and how cunning Anansi was, I could start today and not finish until next Thursday,” began the old man.
“Then don’t,” said Maeve. “We’ll take it as said. And what did this Anansi do?”
“Well, Anansi won the stories—won them? No. Heearned them. He took them from Tiger, and made it so Tiger couldn’t enter the real world no more. Not in the flesh. The stories people told became Anansi stories. This was, what, ten, fifteen thousand years back.
“Now, Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. Now, all over the world, all of the people they aren’t just thinking of hunting and being hunted anymore. Now they’re starting tothink their way out of problems—sometimes thinking their way into worse problems. They still need to keep their bellies full, but now they’re trying to figure out how to do it without working—andthat’s the point where people start using their heads. Some people think the first tools were weapons, but that’s all upside down. First of all, people figure out the tools. It’s the crutch before the club, every time. Because now people are telling Anansi stories, and they’re starting to think about how to get kissed, how to get something for nothing by being smarter or funnier. That’s when they start to make the world.”
“It’s just a folk story,” she said. “People made up the stories in the first place.”
“Does that change things?” asked the old man. “Maybe Anansi’s just some guy from a story, made up back in Africa in the dawn days of the world by some boy with blackfly on his leg, pushing his crutch in the dirt, making up some goofy story about a man made of tar. Does that change anything? People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folk who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don’t get an easy meal, now they’re starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper’s changed. Yes? People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before.”
“You’re telling me that before the Anansi stories the world was savage and bad?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
She digested this. “Well,” she said cheerily, “it’s certainly a good thing that the stories are now Anansi’s.”
The old man nodded.
And then she said, “Doesn’t Tiger want them back?”
He nodded. “He’s wanted them back for ten thousand years.”
“But he won’t get them, will he?”
That is one long, damned quote, and for that I am sorry. But it gives you a flavour of what the humour and the writing of the novel is like.
I’ll write more about this later, but for now, read my entry, digest my hard typed quote, and maybe, I mean, if you feel up to it, read something of mine.