I read Anansi Boys by Neal Gaiman this weekend.
It's about a dweebish nobody of a guy whose much cooler long-lost brother (who happens to sport a black leather jacket ) shows up and f#cks his fiancée. Events both natural and supernatural unfold from there.
"Stylisitically uneven" is how I would categorize this particular novel. There's an inane Hitchhiker's Guide-like sequence that sort of jumps in out of nowhere in the middle of the story that serves little purpose other than to clash with the general low-key style. Later, horror overrides humor as a character's tongue is ripped out.
At some point the "brothers" story becomes a "murder" story, with a south Florida element. Why do authors, and reviewers, consider south Florida retirees inherently funny? Elements of this story reminded me of possibly the worst novel I've ever read, humorist Dave Barry's Nothing But Trouble.
The fantasy element -- it's a Gaiman novel, so there's gotta be a fantasy element -- comes to the fore in the latter third of the book. Far from compelling, the end of the story drags interminably, rather like some of the lesser Harry Potter installments. There are several post-script segments detailing the eventual fates of the characters, most of which are silly, but not in a particularly entertaining way.
Twice in the story, and more jarring even than the lapse into Adams-esque time-and-space shifting, Gaiman breaks from the third-person omniscient point of view to interject "this author is compelled" first-person statements. Perhaps I overstep my prerogative by leveling criticism at a popular, best-selling author, but to me this smacks of hasty, sloppy writing. Were the author adopting this stance throughout the story it might work; to interject only twice in more than 300 pages is distracting; the comments add little to the narrative, and might easily have been reworded to remove the first-person imposition. It also occurred to this writer that the "lapses" may have been intentional: Gaiman, in the spirit of both fanservice and ego-mollifying self-promotion, simply has to remind readers who may fall too deeply under the spell of the web he weaves in Anansi that there's an actual "famous author" behind this mesmeric prose.
I found Anansi Boys prosaic at best. There is little to recommend this story; likewise, there is little call for harsh criticism. It's not "bad" enough to set aside in disgust; neither does it elicit raves for being either a compelling page-turner or a wittily amusing diversion. I found it bland and, occasionally, mildly irritating stylistically. Nothing more nor less.
Like J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter stories, I don't quite get what all the fuss is about when it comes to Neal Gaiman. In an effort to better understand his appeal, I'll likely try another work: American Gods sounds promising, as I understand it features sequences set in the peculiar House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin; and Coraline, so I've read, has an enthralling influence over teenage "goth girls." Any "raves" over Anansi Boys, however, I must, after trying hard to read the book with an open mind, attribute to marketing hype or overzealous fan adoration.
As an aside: I appreciated the several references to the song, "Yellow Bird" throughout the story. Hardly a piece likely to be familiar to Gaiman's teeny-goth audience, Arthur Lyman's late 1950s exotica instrumental is one of the few songs that, for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, bring a tear to my eye. But I reveal too much.
Also in the story: a character mutters the word, "meh." I wonder, did Sky pick it up from Gaiman, or did Gaiman get it from Sky?
Coincidentally, on the bookshelf in the SPeD classroom this past Friday, wedged in among the other tattered paperbacks, I discovered this battered book, which I vaguely remember from my own elementary school days, inscribed, complete with a quick sketch, by Caldecott Honors author and illustrator Gerald McDermott.