I'm not sure the artwork is quite what I'd have used for a story this epic, this emotional, or this dense. It's beautiful art, and I suppose the sparsI'm not sure the artwork is quite what I'd have used for a story this epic, this emotional, or this dense. It's beautiful art, and I suppose the sparse lines and flat colors of the first half or so might serve to counter the story itself, but for me, it just never played right, and I found this book difficult to get into. But the story itself--Neil Gaiman's unbelievably rich narrative of hubris and sacrifice--is well worth sticking it out through the longest of the first ten Sandman volumes.
But neither the classical tragedy nor the unfolding mythology of this volume is the best part of the story: for me, the manner in which Gaiman brings forth characters I'd long thought minor, even filler in some cases, and integrates them delicately but profoundly into the larger narrative, is amazing, and I caught myself cheering, jeering, or crying over various once-small characters and their surprising actions here. If the artwork hadn't done so much to undo my early impressions of this book, I would have given it five stars easily; as it is, if Goodreads allowed me to, I'd give this four and a half without hesitation....more
To be fair, I'd rather give this 2.5 stars. It was an interesting story, but something felt off the whole time I was reading it. In some ways the storTo be fair, I'd rather give this 2.5 stars. It was an interesting story, but something felt off the whole time I was reading it. In some ways the story is deliciously inventive, but in others it sometimes feels disappointingly derivative. Sometimes the writing was bang-on clever, other times it was too self-consciously clever, and in a few appalling places, it was just plain bad ("The knife flew through the air like an extremely large and sharp knife flying through the air very fast indeed"; I haven't seen prose this lazy since I forced my way through the Twilight Saga). Still, for all the self-satisfied cuteness of his characters (a girl name Door who can magically open doors, and that's just the beginning), he does manage to people his imaginary underworld with an interesting cast, one that you eventually come to care about. I was in the middle of the book before I bothered caring, but it did, eventually, happen. For die-hard Neil Gaiman fans, this will probably seem like a delight; for fans of modern urban fantasy, this will probably seem fairly standard but certainly worth reading. But for serious readers of literature (including people like me who count Gaiman's graphic fiction among the best works of contemporary lit), this will feel pretty pedestrian, a fun, relatively guilt-free read that is trying at first but moves quickly enough to the end, and then is easily set aside for something better....more
I have mixed feelings about the short-short (or flash fiction, of micro-fiction, or whatever it is we want to call it these days). On the one hand, itI have mixed feelings about the short-short (or flash fiction, of micro-fiction, or whatever it is we want to call it these days). On the one hand, it's a powerful form, as close to the compression and deceptive complexity of poetry as fiction can get (my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, who is one of my favorite poets, insists there is no difference between the short-short and the prose poem, and I can't find any good reason to disagree with her). But because the short-short is so, well, short, writers deceive themselves into thinking it's an easy genre, and to be honest, most of what I read turns out to be silly at best: they're often sketches in the guise of a story, or scenes that belong in a longer story, or poems having an identity crisis. Sometimes they're not anything at all--a writing exercise gone bad, or just foolishness made out of words. And, to be fair, some of the stories in this book are like that, inglorious examples of all of the above. (Why, for instance, did the editors insist on including humor bits from the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" section? I'm as big a fan of Jack Handey as any New Yorker reader can be, but really, is this genuine fiction?)
But some of these stories are surprisingly effective, even when they start out reading like disasters. John Edgar Wideman's "Stories," for example, reads for all the world like a list of story ideas generated by a writing exercise, but if you stick with it, it provides a surprising and almost poetic turn at the end that keeps me rereading the piece again and again. Tom Hazuka's "I Didn't Do That" is a haunting, disturbing little piece, barely a page long but heavy on the mind. Kit Coyne Irwin's "Parrot Talk" and Eva Marie Ginsburg's "The Kettle" ought to read like silly puns or cute cocktail-party jokes, but they bring such human emotion and clever wordplay into these tiny stories that I read each of them out loud to my wife, just for the excuse to read them a second time.
I could go on, because while some of these stories are disappointing, the bulk of them are delightful, and a surprising number are true gems, tiny but radiant examples of what Italo Calvino calls the quality of "quickness" at work in only the best literature. It's not a perfect book, but it's certainly worth reading and, if you're a writer, worth keeping on your bookshelf....more