Greetings, and welcome to the series of book summaries/reviews I call Avery’s Athenaeum. Here’s how it works:
- Synopsis: this section is for everyone, containing only minor spoilers and should serve as a suitable enough pitch to anyone who may be interested in reading the book.
The following sections are for people who have already read the book, or people like me who don’t particularly care about spoilers and/or like to know what happens before reading something.
- Summary: this section will contain major plot spoilers and serves as a more complete run-through of the books contents, though I reserve the right to over-generalize– this is mainly just so anyone who wants to can read my thoughts, even if they don’t want to read the book
- Speculation: this section will contain my thoughts and feelings about the book and an overall star rating out of 5
I had never heard of Anansi Boys when I first read American Gods, but at a friend’s recommendation, I checked this one out. Though Anansi Boys is not a sequel to American Gods, or even necessarily in the same universe, it revolves around the immediate family of Mr. Nancy from the latter work. If you liked American Gods, if you didn’t, or even if you’ve never read it, I would highly recommend Anansi Boys to anyone with an interest in fun, magical adventures mixed in with day-to-day life. It’s basically an entirely different animal.
If American Gods is a bald eagle, then Anansi Boys is perhaps… a spider.
Fat Charlie Nancy’s father was pretty well known and liked by everyone, but Fat Charlie is not close with him. In fact, he hates his father for a variety of reasons stemming from humiliation he was put through as a child. He is living in London with his fiancé, Rosie who is saving herself for marriage to Fat Charlie’s muted dismay. The wedding preparations are rather lackluster. His job working at a talent agency is fine, but it’s boring. His mother in law doesn’t think he is a good fit for her daughter. He doesn’t particularly like being called Fat Charlie, but it doesn’t matter. Somehow, that always ends up as his name.
When Fat Charlie’s father dies suddenly of a heart attack, he travels to his Florida to attend the funeral and reconnects with a woman from his childhood, one Mrs. Callyanne Higgler. Mrs. Higgler tells him something very odd: his father, she tells him, is the spider god Anansi. Fat Charlie is skeptical, and asks why he didn’t have any godlike powers. Mrs. Higgler reveals those powers had been given to his brother, an individual whom prior to this moment, Fat Charlie had no idea existed. Fat Charlie asks how he could get in contact him, to which Mrs. Higgler’s response makes him doubt her mental capacities: just ask a spider!
For the most part, Fat Charlie forgets all about this, until one drunken evening, he sees a spider and asks it if perhaps his brother might stop by for a visit.
Spider arrives in town, a suave, well-groomed and fit man claiming to be Fat Charlie’s brother. At first, Fat Charlie is pretty okay with this, although baffled at times by how Spider seems to get everything he wants just by saying it. The two go out drinking to grieve their father and the next day Fat Charlie wakes up, hungover, in bed with a woman named Daisy whom he did not sleep with, but quite likes. Spider, meanwhile, has assumed the identity of Fat Charlie through magic, despite not resembling him physically much at all.
While pretending to be Fat Charlie, Spider gets up to a lot. He discovers Fat Charlie’s boss, Grahame Coats, has been embezzling from his famous clients for years and calls him out on this fact. He also courts, kisses, and eventually has sex with Fat Charlie’s fiancé Rosie, much to Fat Charlie’s dismay. Fat Charlie accuses Spider of ruining his life and asks him to leave, but Spider refuses. Fat Charlie, having been given hush money and a week off work from Grahame Coats (who thought it was him that had exposed him and was planning to frame him) goes to Florida and asks Mrs. Higgler how he can get rid of Spider. She doesn’t know, but they conduct a seance which allows him to reach “the beginning of the world,” where he meets with many animal gods before settling on the Bird Woman. She asks him for Anansi’s bloodline, and he trades it for a black feather as an agreement that she will help him.
Surely this will not have adverse consequences.
When Fat Charlie arrives back in London, he fights with Spider before the police arrive to arrest him for the embezzlement that Grahame Coats has since framed him for. While he is sitting in jail, Spider confesses to Rosie that he was not Fat Charlie, and she is angry. The bird woman begins pursuing Spider, while Grahame Coats skips town for the Caribbean. Through a variety of means Grahame Coats, Fat Charlie, Daisy, Rosie, and her mother all end up on one Caribbean island at the same time. Spider believes he is doomed to perish. Everything is beginning to fall together…
…but I am not going to recount the events that follow, for they are wild and exciting and well worth reading. Anansi Boys, above all, is a story about stories. And this is a story that takes the craft of storytelling very seriously. I refuse to completely finish the story for you, because I found that was part of the fun. Reading Anansi Boys, I adored putting two and two together and realizing how perfectly each piece had been laid out – each string of a web, as it were – to create the perfect, satisfying conclusion to the story. It diverts your expectations along the way, but lands exactly where you expect it to. And that is the magic of Anansi Boys.
If you’d really like to read it, I implore you: stop here.
However, if you have read Anansi Boys, or really don’t care, by all means peruse my overall thoughts below.
Anansi Boys was a storytelling marvel. From the very start, pieces were laid down that would become integral in the long run of the plot. When Mrs. Higgler tells Charlie he has a brother he doesn’t remember, it is insinuated that Spider may not be a brother at all, but you don’t learn until later that Mrs. Higgler didn’t just ‘send spider away’– she split the magic right out of Charlie. When Charlie and Rosie’s bored, passionless engagement is introduced, you immediately hope that he does not marry her. When Spider comes into town, sweeps her off her feet and the two fall genuinely in love, you immediately hope they end up together in the end. Equally, you wish the same for Charlie and Daisy, who were also paired rather early on. Gaiman does an amazing job of spinning this little story, and by the end, you are looking at a gorgeous, glistening web.
I also need to draw attention to Grahame Coats, who I thought was a fantastic villain. I hardly even discussed him in the summary, but he is rather integral to the story and is truly as weaselly as they come. If you like a good posh English villain, then Anansi Boys is the book for you.
Basically, Anansi Boys was an amazing read, and if it were not so perfectly crafted, I imagine I would have more to say. Instead, it stands that Anansi Boys is a remarkable story about stories, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you experience it for yourself.