"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Charles Nancy is an unlucky sort of fellow; he prefers to be called Charles or Charlie but everyone calls him Fat Charlie, whether he likes it or not because that was the name his father gave him. With a wedding on the horizon, Rosie thinks it's time for Fat Charlie to start mending those old embarassing bridges, and invite his family to the wedding. Unable to say no, Charlie reaches out to Mrs Higgler, a family friend who might know how to contact his old man... But he's too late. Mr Nancy is dead and Mrs Higgler's got news for Charlie. His father wasn't just a trickster, he was trickster God and Charlie has a long lost brother who communicates through spiders...

This book started out laugh out loud funny. I loved the glimpse into what an ancient God's idea of parenting would be, and those parenting skills then topped by the peculiar circumstances of death. And its a nice mirror of reality; it sometimes seems like parents' job to embarrass their children until death do they part. And when Spider, Charlie's brother shows up, you know right away the story is heating up. Spider appears to be cut from the same cloth as his father: he's flamboyant, flirty, manipulative... He's a bit of a dick. You can't help but laugh because you know this isn't going to go well for Charlie who just wants to cling to normalcy. He loves to hate his job, working for Grahame Coate--a criminal mastermind who loves speaking in cliches. He loves to love his girlfriend and he loves to hate her mother.

But then the story starts to take a regrettably dark turn. After a night of drinking, Charlie wakes up with a strange woman, Daisy and finds out that Spider's decided to impersonate Charlie and steal his bride to be...which takes Spider from the path of womanizer to rapist. Failure to say no isn't the same thing as consent. Spider A) uses his power to convince Rosie that he's Charlie, and B) proceeds to supernaturally seduce the virgin who wanted to wait until marriage. Did Neil Gaiman think that would be funny? I just found it disturbing. How is that any different than getting a woman drunk or spiking her drink? She's being manipulated into doing something she wouldn't normally do; he took control away from her with a lie and a supernatural Mickey.

The word misogyny comes to mind. And once I start seeing it I can't stop. At first glance, Anansi is just a horny old man. Spider's just a dick, let's face it, we all know one. But Charlie is normal right? Except when Charlie finds out what Spider has done his reaction is to feel A) betrayed by Spider, and B) jealous that his brother got there first. He never once stops to consider how Rosie has just been violated, even if she doesn't know it. Even Grahame Coates is in on the action, fantasizing about buying sex and imagining having sex with the client he's stealing money from. Again and again, women are portrayed as possessions, to be owned and, when inconvenient, conquered. The female characters are broken down into two categories: tools, to be used or vicious, vengeful hags. Daisy and Maeve, while strong, clever voices are not exempt from the stereotyping: when they cease to be useful they're transitioned to revenge seekers. Rosie, never earns the title of vicious, vengeful hag because even once she realizes she's been violated, it's okay because she loves Spider. Apparently, it's better to be a toy than an actual person.

While it was tough to redirect my attention from outrage back to the now all unlikeabe cast of characters, I did so...Charlie seeks help from a world where the old Gods and Goddesses reside; most everyone hates him and refuse to help throw his brother out. Except one Goddess who decides to trade, whose motoves were a mystery never unraveled, except to say if help didn't come from somewhere, the story would stop moving. So the angry Bird Woman decides to torment both brothers while the paranoid Mr Coates eventually becomes possessed by Tiger, Anansi's archnemesis, reducing the story line to an unbelievable hodgepodge of fantasy, coincidence, and mystery combined... all heading toward okay ending at a lovely vacation spot.

And by the end, Spider has repented, learned to care about Rosie's feelings even though if she gets boring he'll be forced to leave her. And Charlie has finally found himself; who he is, what he can do, what he's passionate about...He's also not alone because he spur of the moment decided to marry the next woman in line, because what the hell, they're all interchangeable, right?

While the story wasn't anywhere near the quality I've come to expect from Neil Gaiman, I'm generously giving it 3 stars because it did get an emotional response from me, even if it may not have been the emotional response he wanted.

Rating: 3/5

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