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Tales of the Weird 

Gaiman spins web of inventiveness

Take the tickle from cartoons and the one-dimensional characters from superhero comic strips; combine those with the wise, reassuring voice of the god behind the oldest narratives on earth; stir these in a cauldron with references to 20th century films; add humor, and you have a taste of the fun in store in Anansi Boys. Anansi the Spider is the trickster archetype in ancient African stories, and in Neil Gaiman's new book, the best-selling author spins a modern web of outrageous plot with the sure hand of a writer who trusts the timeless roots of children's literature.

An adult novel, Anansi Boys doesn't offer richly rendered characters aching over conflicts of the heart. There's too much WAM!, POW! and PFFT! for that. Although it's every bit as well crafted as a more conventional literary novel, it doesn't merely appeal to the reader's imagination. It claps you on the back, chuckles and drags your hidden fears and fantasies out for a romp in an ancient jungle of narrative history.

In the beginning, Fat Charlie's father has died, and the young mourner discovers that his father was Anansi, the spider god. Once you digest this, you're in for a good time. Wise, old witchy women with Dickensian names, Mrs. Higgler and Mrs. Dunwiddy, explain to Charlie that if he talks to a spider he can meet his brother who used to be a magical part of him, but whom the witches long ago removed and set free.

Charlie meets his brother, Spider, a true trickster "used to pushing reality around a little." Spider takes Charlie's girl and unearths fraud in his brother's boss's financial transactions, getting the poor bloke fired. A police investigation and a magnificent chase scene ensue through worlds both real and unreal.

Tangled in all this is the narrative thread of Rosie, a do-gooder who is at odds with her icy British mother over the girl's impending marriage to Fat Charlie and who is confused by the identities of the two brothers. Then there's Daisy, at once a floozy and a cop, whose journey is as surprising as every twist in the book.

It's a weird, silly book driven by serious inventiveness. The motif of birds is magnificent, as is the appearance of the patriarch of storytelling, Tiger, who will forever try to steal the rights to storytelling from Spider.

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