"American Gods", then, suffered from being written on a scale too grand to be something this reader could empathize with. Too often, Gaiman relied on "pain beyond human imagination" and other hyperbolic devices to try and conjure a story on a vast and cosmic scale. The problem with writing about anything that is beyond human imagination, or indeed, anything ineffable at all, is that it also defies description, which leaves the reader with a less-than-concrete mental image of what's going on. If Shadow's (the Main character in "American Gods") pain is beyond human imagination, and I am in fact human (something subject to debate) then that leaves me reading several pages of description of something I can neither imagine nor picture. Once or twice this isn't a big deal, but it seems to crop up a lot in "American Gods".
Not so "Ananansi Boys". Like "American Gods", "Anansi Boys" is about the relationship the main character has with his missing father who also happens to be a deity. In this case, though, the story is more thoroughly grounded in the experience of Fat Charlie Nancy, the son of Anansi, the African trickster-spider-story-god. Due to a clever twist in the plot, Fat Charlie is not only just as mortal as the rest of us, he's even more painfully hum-drum and perpetually embarassed as most of us. The plot really starts with his father's death, and the subsequent revalations and travails that would naturally be the legacy of a trickster god.
Neil Gaiman really likes writing about the half-mortal sons of trickster gods, doesn't he? But in this case, he does it very well. Fat Charlie is intensely likeable, and he is surrounded by a cast of likeable characters around him. At no point, no matter how far out and mythical Fat Charlie's experiences may be, does the scope escape human understanding. The plot is as twisty as one of Anansi's tricks, but much as a spider's web comes together at the center, "Anansi Boys" comes together in a masterful tying-up-of-loose-ends. Seemingly disparate plot elements come together in a climax that is very satisfying, and only occasionally goosed along by outright coincidence. Gaiman is getting better, the more he writes. It's interesting to see him perfect his craft. There were even a few of those, "Dang! I wish I had thought of that!" moments that any writer (me, allegedly) has when he's reading something well done by another author.
Not everything is letter-perfect, however. Particularly, quite a bit of the dialogue is written in what is supposed to be African-American (of Caribbean extract) vernacular. Neil Gaiman is painfully white and painfully British, however - and in some cases, his African-American characters use British slang that you simply would not hear in the U.S. His ear for dialect is far better when he's writing about citizens of the UK.
I really enjoyed "Anansi Boys" and recommend it to anyone who likes the genre. I plowed through it in a couple of days, and wished it had gone on longer. I was left feeling a little cold by "American Gods", but am glad to see some of the same themes revisited in a better book, written by an author who is more skilled than he used to be. I hold out much hope for Gaiman's next book.