Thursday, June 5, 2014
A guy walks into another world...
Sometimes Neil Gaiman bugs me because he seems like a one-trick pony; a ton of his stories follow the same arc of: normal dude walks into another world, realizes that normalcy is relative, everyone lives happily ever after, roll credits.
None of these stories are actually bad, it just gets a bit dull after a while - Gaiman writes brilliant, sparkling, wonderful prose and does so to tell the same sorts of fairytales that most people have been hearing for their whole lives. In one way, that's super cool - he's making new from old and kicking ass. In another way it's a little disappointing - couldn't he make new from new and kick even more ass?
Well, yes, he can. And when he does make new from new he tends to do it in really excellent short stories.
I didn't know that Fragile Things was a collection of shorts when I bought it, but was excited when I figured it out. I used to own a copy of Smoke and Mirrors (if you still have it, Ryan, I'd like it back or I'm keeping your copy of House of Leaves) and I adored it - I was excited to read more of Gaiman's shorts and the collection didn't disappoint.
"A Study in Emerald" - Sherlock Holmes meets HP Lovecraft and everyone wins. You probably need to know at least a little bit about both sources to "get" this story, but you don't need to be familiar with either source in order to enjoy the vision of a twisted England and a tormented populace.
"The Fairy Reel" - Not going to lie, I sang this entire poem aloud at least four times. It's pretty much perfect.
"October in the Chair" - Some nice personification going on in the frame story, and the story within the frame is delicate and haunting.
"The Hidden Chamber" - I didn't pick up on the Blackbeard story in this creepy little poem, but I quite liked the overall tone and construction.
"Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" - Fucking hilarious examination of Gothic Literature and the concept of Literature in general.
"The Flints of Memory Lane" - Short, sweet, and to the point, this little ghost story is all the more creepy for its familiarity; everyone has a story like this, and it is always something you could explain away if not for the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
"Closing Time" - Another story-within-a-story that has a nice inner and outer life. No explanations are given and that makes everything worse in the world but better in the story.
"Going Wodwo" - An odd poem about being turning feral. I like it.
"Bitter Grounds" - With all the pop culture that circles the drain discussing zombies, I think this is the best piece of zombie fiction that I've read in a long time; that being said, I think this is one of my least favorite works in the collection - it's a bit draggy and frustrating.
"Other People" - Delightfully hopeless, this very short story reminded me uncomfortably of myself.
"Keepsakes and Treasures" - This story introduces the reader to a wonderful bastard who is likeable, funny, and repugnant. Great characters are sketched out and you can see that plans are being laid with this piece - I'd really like to see more of what came from these plans.
"Good Boys Deserve Favors" - Music is its own kind of magic, but sometimes there's a little more magic to it than that. A cute, if somewhat meaningless, tale of a boy and a bass.
"The facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" - As a fan of freakshows and oddball circuses I enjoyed the presentation of this story; as a reader I'm not sure exactly what happened here, but neither is the narrator so that's okay.
"Strange Little Girls" - This collection of super-short stories has a few gems and a few duds. "Raining Blood" is probably the most complete and the most heartbreaking, but all of them are an interesting exploration of femininity and the super-short form.
"Harlequin Valentine" - Fast and funny this story jogs along and plays with identity and reason.
"Locks" - Why do we tell stories and what does it mean that we do? What does it mean when the stories change in ways that authors never intended? A fairytale about a fairytale told in a poem.
"The Problem of Susan" - Fucking A. What happens to the survivors of the stories that we read, where do they go when all the other characters are dead? Gaiman offers up a possible home and a life for at least one literary orphan.
"Instructions" - This poem is a set of rules to follow should you find yourself stuck on the wrong side of a strange door. Considered and quite complete; I sort of feel the need to memorize and perform this little piece, just in case I need a set of rules to follow someday.
"How do you think it feels?" - Gaiman seemed to have a lot to say about the labor of creation and the building of shields in this collection. This story is a bit awkward and a little gross, but is an interesting perspective on the fairy tales we lock ourselves into.
"My Life" - An interesting piece that builds on itself by not being made of much. It doesn't tell a story so much as it asks you what story you want it to tell.
"Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" - I love tarots; there are so many possibilities for storytelling in the cards. This is another collection of super-shorts that happens to use a combination of vampire mythology and the classic tarot as a jumping off point. It's interesting, though the stories are really to brief to get into much detail.
"Feeders and Eaters" - Either I'm too good at recognizing foreshadowing or this story is a wee bit predictable. Good creepypasta either way.
"Diseasemaker's Croup" - A very funny and complicated commentary on hypochondria mixed in with some really delightful Engrish.
"In the End" - Perfect. This is the imagined inverse of Genesis and everything about it is great.
"Goliath" - Apparently this short was written to accompany the release of The Matrix, which makes a hell of a lot of sense in retrospect. It's a little bit twisted and a lot of fun, though it does make me worry for my Goliath-sized husband.
"Pages from a Journal found in a Shoebox left in a Greyhound Bus somewhere between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky" - A story of searching for something to search for. A love letter to the lost.
"How to talk to Girls at Parties" - A boy has an opportunity to explore the histories and traditions of other planets and he's only interested in getting a kiss. Cute and funny.
"The Day the Saucers Came" - This poem build to a delightful and honest-feeling anticlimax. I liked the combination of insanity and banality.
"Sunbird" - Just great. Exotic meat enthusiasts come across something a little to spicy and start the cycle of consumption anew.
"Inventing Aladdin" - A poem about the places that stories come from. This is actually a pretty good look at the effort and alchemy of the creative process.
"The Monarch of the Glen" - This story is probably what is going to make me ditch the Poe collection I'm reading halfway through so that I can reread American Gods - the story takes place in the same universe and has the same ethereal, dreamlike quality that made American Gods such a joy to read.
Stay away from strange doors unless you've memorized your instructions.
Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things. William Morrow. New York: New York. 2007. (2006).