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Book Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

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Coyote is steamed. Boy, I'll tell you I've not seen that one so angry in a long time. He came by my house the other day and he just couldn't sit still. He'd go to sit down and then he would pop up again like someone put one of those big burrs on his butt.

"Coyote," I said, "Have you got one of those big burrs on your butt? Sit down and stop with your pacing. You're making me tired just looking at you." Truth is he was making me nervous. Coyote pacing and steamed like that will sometimes get ideas; Coyote with ideas is bad news. The world can't take many more of Coyote's good ideas. Another great idea from his noggin, — well let's just say you'd better hope they invent interstellar travel before that happens.

So I'm trying to get that Coyote to sit down and stop his pacing, to calm down and not be getting any ideas. "Sit down Coyote, have a burger. You want some tea, Coyote? I've some real nice tea here," I say, showing him the pot of tea sitting on the table beside his chair and all.

He looks over at me and comes stomping across and sits down beside me in his chair. He's careful to tuck his tail up so he don't sit on it; he's had trouble with his tail in the past, but that's another story. This is this story, not that one. So the steamed Coyote, he sits down and he drinks his cup of tea. He's huffing and puffing into his tea as he's drinking it. He's talking under his breath and muttering and drinking his tea all at the same time.

"Hey Coyote you're going to get real bad hiccoughs if you're not careful drinking your tea like that. You've got to be more careful 'cause you don't want to be burping and hiccoughing all over the place now do you? That’s' not a good thing for you to do."

He listens to me this time 'cause he remembers how it was last time he hiccoughed and burped all over the place and although it makes him smile with his big tongue lolling out in that Coyote laugh, he knows he doesn't want to do that again. Now that I see him all relaxed like, I figure it might be okay to ask him what's made him all steamed up.

"Now Coyote you gonna tell me what you're doing coming over to my house all steamed up disturbing the dust with your pacing to and fro? Something got you all riled up and if you just keep steaming and stewing about it you're going to start cooking yourself and I don't want the smell of burning Coyote fur in here," is what I say to him.

I'm hoping if I get him talking he won't be getting any ideas. He doesn't think that well when he's talking, which is a good thing because the last thing you want is Coyote thinking. Too much trouble comes from those Coyote thoughts I tell you.

From somewhere, while he's slurping his tea (Coyote got no manners no matter how hard he tries to be refined and mannerly; he'll always let himself down by the way he eats and drinks, slurping and slobbering), he brings out this book and slaps it down on the table. Slaps it down so hard that it makes all the little sugar cubes in their bowl jump up in the air and the milk in its pitcher spill and the tea in my cup jump into my saucer.

He just keeps on slurping his tea all this time, not noticing anything. As I'm pouring the tea from my saucer back into the cup and cleaning up the spilled milk, I look down at the book and see that it's by that storyteller guy, Neil Gaiman, and its called Anansi Boys. I look over at Coyote, slurping away at his tea as if he won't be seeing any more tomorrows, so I pick up that book Anansi Boys and try to figure out what this nice looking book could have done to make Coyote mad.

It doesn't have any arms or legs so it couldn't have been pulling his hair or trying to set his tail on fire or any of the other things that normally make Coyote all upset. Since this little book couldn't have done any of those things, it must have been something it said to rile up Coyote so much. So I pick up that book and open its pages to see why it got Coyote so upset.

The book starts to tell me a story about two brothers who have never really met and who are as different from each other as if they were the sun and the moon; the only thing they have in common being there father. The little book starts out with the one son, Charlie Nancy, who everyone calls Fat Nancy even though he's not fat at all. It doesn't make much sense until the book tells me about Fat Charlie's dad.

Now Fat Charlie's dad's last name may sound like Nancy but it's really Anansi, and Anansi is a God, which is something Fat Charlie doesn't find out about his dad until after he dies of a heart attack while singing in a Karaoke bar in Florida. For Fat Charlie, his dad dying of a heart attack while singing Karaoke is only the last of the really embarrassing things his dad has done over the years that made Fat Charlie feel humiliated.

Most of us have a time in our life, usually teenager time, when our parents only have to stand next to us to embarrass us, to make us feel mortified. Fat Charlie feels like his whole life has been like that around his dad. Nobody called him Fat Charlie until his dad did. Fat Charlie got a little chubby when he was ten. When Fat Charlie's dad named something, it stayed named and nothing anybody did could do anything about that.

That's what Anansi the God was like. He was a tricky little fellow who was always coming up with ways to get things he wanted by tricking others out of them. Sometimes it would work and other times it wouldn't work, especially if the other person had heard enough stories about Anansi and had learned how to be tricky. Anansi's best story was how he took all the stories and all the songs away from Tiger.

Tiger says I to that book, you mean like the big cat? That's right said the book, cheerfully. (It’s a very cheerful little book with lots of laughs in it. It's been telling me jokes all the time I've been telling you about it. I've been laughing at the book’s jokes, but quiet-like ‘cause I don't think Coyote would like it too much if I laughed too loudly at its jokes. I don't think he'd like it if I was laughing at all at the book’s jokes, to tell you the truth. So I'm laughing quietly while Coyote makes lots of noise slurping tea so he can't hear me laughing) Well, says I, if Tiger is tiger, who is Anansi?

"Why Anansi is Spider" says that book Anansi Boys, "and who better to tie all the strings of the world together and weave them into stories than Spider? He was born in Africa, but he came over here with his people to make sure the stories about living weren't forgotten."

"So what's your story about, the story about his boys, is it a story about living, too?" I have to talk quieter now and not laugh so much at the funny stories the book is telling me because Coyote isn't making as much noise and is starting to wonder what I'm doing. I can tell because he's pretending he's not looking at me and he's not very good at pretending not to care what goes on around him.

The book thinks for a minute and says that he's about all sorts of things — he's about Anansi so people can get to know him better and understand what he's like, but, the book says, he's about telling the tale of Fat Charlie and his long lost brother and what they give each other. Fat Charlie has spent his life being very scared about being Fat Charlie, while his brother Spider has spent his life doing all those things that Fat Charlie can never quite bring himself to do because he's too afraid of messing up.

Spider got all the charm, glamour, magic, and Godliness. Fat Charlie got all the human baggage and became an accountant. Both of them are lopsided and need to learn how to be a little of each other and that's what they spend their time doing. At first they rub up against each other all wrong and make trouble, but then they both figure out what they need and start to help each other.

"Sounds like you're a good story I tell Anansi Boys, with lots of good people and some strange people to make it a funny story. But what's this Neil Gaiman done in you to get Coyote so steamed that you can see the smoke coming out of his ears? Does he say Coyote is stupid or that he has bad breath or that he farts a lot? Does he tell embarrassing stories about Coyote when he was just small, like he tells those funny stories about what Anansi did to Fat Charlie, Crow, Tiger, and other people or even like the one where people used one of Anansi's own stories to get back at him?

“From what you say I can't see anything that he's done to make Coyote unhappy. These are just the type of stories that Coyote likes. Just the type of stories that Coyote is always in or always telling people to teach them stuff." I stopped talking then and looked at the book.

The book just sat there as I looked at it, not saying anything anymore, which was a good thing because now Coyote wasn't just pretending he wasn't looking, he was looking and listening. I looked over at Coyote thinking about what I'd just said to Anansi Stories and knew why Coyote was so steamed.

I sat and thought for a bit, which is hard to do when Coyote is staring at you with his yellow/brown eyes and his tongue hanging out and his ears pointing forward. Then I slowly nodded my head and turned to Coyote and I put my hand on the book and said to him. "Why are you pretending to be a Spider in this story? Nobody who knows Coyote is going to be fooled for long by that disguise. You think you are such a tricky one Coyote, showing up at my house pretending to be mad at this Anansi Boys book so that no one knows that it's you pretending to be this Anansi. You're not fooling me sitting there slurping my tea all over my house and making my sugar cubes jump and spilling my milk."

Coyote was still looking at me but now he was grinning, grinning that grin which he thinks makes him look smart, but really makes him look a bit silly. We won't tell him that. So he grins that big grin and makes what he thinks is an “aw, shucks you found me out” face and tries to shrug his shoulders.

He gets up to leave and even says thank you for the tea, which only happens once in a blue moon. Still smiling, he heads off to where ever Coyote goes and I yell after him that he's forgotten his book. He looks back over his shoulder and tells me to keep it and then he lopes off into the desert again.

I sit there looking out over the desert watching the stars come out from their hiding spots behind the blue sky and I pick up that book Anansi Boys by that Neil Gaiman fellow and I say, "Sometimes you just have to tell Coyote what he wants to hear" and the Spider in it's web up under the porch roof nods it's head and the book says yes, and we sit and wait for the moon, listening to all the stories going on all around us.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Bonnie Bonnie

    Very nice, creative review!

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Been reading a bit too much Charles de Lint have we, Richard?

    Erm, come to think of it you LOOK an awful lot like Charles de Lint too…

    Dave

  • http://blogs.epicindia.com/leapinthedark Richard Marcus

    Dave

    I actually can’t stand Charles de Lint’s work – it’s always just rubbed me the wrong way. This is more a steal from another Canadian writer Thomas King who writes Coyote stories.

    I’ve never seen what he looks like, but you know we Canadians all look alike – it’s the beady eyes. I think he and I were born in the same city, Ottawa, so it could just be the water.

    I have been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman recently though – something that’s good for anyone’s health be they American, Canadian or whatever…

    Just as an aside, why did half your comment get cut out of the email that was sent to me? I only got the bit about reading de Lint, not about looking like him in the notice mailed – strange.

    cheers

    Richard

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I cheated and went back and added in the second line rather than wasting space with a whole new comment. An abuse of my editorial powers, I suppose.

    Maybe I’ll check out Thomas King. I do like de Lint, but his penchant for the maudlin can sometimes be a bit much.

    I’m about to start reading the new Gaiman short story collection.

    Dave