s.penkevich's Reviews > Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
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Jan 30, 12

bookshelves: short-story, jeepers_creepers
Recommended to s.penkevich by: practically everyone
Recommended for: Young and old and inbetween

’We owe it to each other to tell stories’
For years I’ve heard the name Neil Gaiman passed about, weighted with heavy praise, and have always promised myself to read him. Earlier this fall, after hearing him speak on NPR, I sat down with a copy of Coraline, and hungrily read it in one sitting. Despite the novel being intended for an audience much greener than I, I couldn’t help but be hypnotized by the charismatic voice and magical delivery and I renewed my promise to return to this author as soon as possible. More recently, although I was happily buried in a pile of Christmas reading, I purchased his second collection of short fictions, Fragile Things, to revisit this infectious voice and break away from heavier reading into his eerie landscapes. Simply put, this collection was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Filled with many of his Locus award winners, and his Hugo winner, this collection brings many of Gaiman’s works, most of them scattered about in various anthologies, together in one binding. All of the signature excellence with which Gaiman has rightly built his widespread fan-base is present to prove that he is equally wonderful with his short game as he is in novel form and to tell stories which will send shivers down the spines of readers of all ages.

There is a vigorous charm about the writing. He lures the reader with lush, simple sentences, which are easy on the eyes, but commanding none-the-less. Once he has drawn you in, cozying up with the reader with a bit of background, the efficacious flow of his phrasing pulls the reader along through the lucid visions of his spectral creations at high speeds in an experience more akin to a thrill ride than just typeface on a page. While Gaiman’s writing isn’t extravagant, the sleek simplicity of it makes it effective to captivate the minds of both the young and old alike. I especially enjoyed Gaiman’s way of affecting a sense of a ‘story within a story’ where he puts near equal emphasis in the context in which the story is told as in the actual tale much like Henry James does in The Turn of the Screw, or Nikolai Gogol does to exemplify the oral tradition of storytelling. This technique is most uniquely present in October in the Chair, which earned the 2003 Locus award for Best Short Story, where the 12 months, each personified in a comical fashion, are seated around a campfire and listen to October tell a chilling tale about a young runaway and his nighttime engagements with the ghost of a dead boy. This helps highlight Gaiman’s pervasive idea of the power stories hold while also allowing him to bring the reader into the story at a safe distance before shocking them. This also allows the author to add a touch of autobiography, as is the case in Closing Time, where he admits that more of the story is ripped from reality than he would like to admit.

These stories are just a flat out good time. From aliens to ghost and vampires, Sherlock Holmes and even into the Matrix, these stories will delight and frighten, which brought to mind my childhood of hiding beneath the sheets reading Steven King’s short stories far past bedtime. There is a compelling wit and humor to these tales, many of which reside just on the outskirts of any sense of conclusion, using the classic horror device of allowing the imagination to run wild and fill in the cracks. In stories such as Feeders and Eaters, we never learn the grisly details of exactly why the man has fallen in on himself, but there is enough horrific background to allow for creativity to connect the last few dots. Sometimes the ‘unsaid’ can be mightier than the ‘said’, and the emotion of fear overrides the physical object of terror. Gaiman is also a master at the twist, such as the Hugo winning A Study in Emerald, his Sherlock Holmes A Study in Scarlet inspired tale, which he mixed with a shot of H.P. Lovecraft. As the reader reaches the conclusion they will notice, if they are versed in Holmes lore a bit, an alternate reality that goes beyond the sci-fi elements. The most staggering twist is contained in the very short yet very disturbing Other People, which I would label one of the ‘must reads’ of this collection. A few other points of interest are the short pieces written to accompany a Tori Amos tour book that each reflect a personality from various songs, and a novella dealing with Shadow, the lead character fro Gaiman's American Gods.

While many of these stories are first rate, this collection does fall into a few pitfalls that comes with the territory of simply rounding up anthologized stories, as there is a sense of unevenness and a fair share of filler. Some of the prose poems also seem to be placed in here just because and do not have the same impact as many of his stories, however Gaiman admits in the introduction that he originally did not intend for any of the poetry to be included. That said, Instructions, a poem that illustrates the clichés of fairytales in the manner of laying out ground-rules for what to do should one find themselves in a fairytale, is highly creative and one of my favorite pieces here. There are a few others that bring about a smile, although the stories are the real meat of the collection. A few of the stories can be shrugged off as well, but do not be discouraged as there is an abundance of juicy tales. The introduction itself is just as enjoyable as the rest of the stories; the readers get a glimpse into the author’s creative process as he describes some behind the scenes tidbits of each story. It is always fascinating for me to experience the author beyond the romanticized perception of an author, and here you can see Gaiman as the human being, writing stories in hotels rooms, airports, or in his living room as his children run about. He puts the stories into the context of his own life, which makes them seem all the more personal.

Storytelling is of major importance to Neil Gaiman. In a recent NPR interview with Gaiman, he stated that his enjoyment in writing children’s fiction stems from a belief that it is the most influential. This is apparent in The Problem of Susan when Greta says that her interest in children’s fiction is because ’they seemed the books that were most important to me. The ones that mattered.’. Gaiman stated that the books we read in our childhood always reside in our hearts and help shape who we are, and also enjoying fiction at a young age helps ensure we continue to pursue literature throughout our lives. He said that Coraline is one of his favorites since many people come to him with stories of how when they were younger and faced with problems, they would remember how brave Coraline was and attempt to emulate this. He said that he began writing children’s fiction after a visit to the library in search of scary stories aimed at 5 year olds, his daughters age at the time, brought only concerned looks and no books. He set out to rectify this, and the world of books is a better place for it. The Problem of Susan briefly discusses a history of children’s fiction, moving from books where children were just miniature adults to ones that are more ‘pure’ and ‘sanctimonious’, and dealt with issues that befall children in the way they perceive and react to them. He shows how that pure, innocent period of growth is essential before they reach the pornography and violence that befalls adulthood. His method of doing so envisions a very different view of the Lion and White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia, one that won’t soon be forgotten. The poem Locks is another place where Gaiman stresses the beauty of childhood innocence in stories, and the function of storytelling being passed through generations. The importance of storytelling is also a major theme in The Invention of Aladdin, where stories can be a tool in protecting ones own life.

Fragile Things is an excellent choice for all readers. It will shock, terrify and even make you laugh across a broad range of stories and poems. I am very glad I picked this up and I will certainly be returning to the twisted mind of Neil Gaiman very soon, I suggest you do as well. He seems to be always eager to tell a story and this is probably the closest thing to climbing up on his knee and hearing him recite one of his magical tales. I hope he has a big enough knee for all of us.
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Reading Progress

01/15/2012 "I will never think of Narnia, and that lion, the same ever again...."

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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s.penkevich A Study In Emeralds was rad; I need to read some Doyle soon. Gaiman is such a fun author I feel bad I haven't read much of him yet.

s.penkevich I've been meaning to pick that one up. I'm almost done with this one and I have been quite impressed, I'll try and get a proper review up eventually. Have you read many of his books? I think I'm going to give either American Gods or Anasi Boys a try soon.

s.penkevich Oh nice, I need to get on reading some. Gaiman is so much fun.

Stephen Wonderful review, s. Very well done.

s.penkevich Thank you Stephen! I wanted to give Gaiman his due, as this book was such a distraction from all my others and that is saying something.

s.penkevich Many thanks Sir Shan.

s.penkevich Thanks. Also, thanks for the heads up on American God's. I'll have to do some looking into mythology first because I'm sure the references would be lost on me as well.

Megan Great review hermano I really want to read these and I still have American Gods sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. I keep meaning to read A Study in Emerald maybe I will do that tomorrow. Again great review and I may have to borrow this from you if I don't buy it first ha.

s.penkevich Gracias hermana! You would really enjoy this one. I'll bring it next time I see you, and you can hold it hostage until I finally get around to reading your copy of House of Leaves. I keep forgetting I have it.
Go here: http://www.neilgaiman.com/mediafiles/...
Now you have no excuse not to read it!

Megan s.penkevich wrote: "Gracias hermana! You would really enjoy this one. I'll bring it next time I see you, and you can hold it hostage until I finally get around to reading your copy of House of Leaves. I keep forgettin..."

Anatomy is my excuse...

message 11: by s.penkevich (last edited Jan 30, 2012 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

s.penkevich Megan wrote: 'Anatomy is my excuse... '

The anatomy of a Holmes story, my dear sister!

Megan s.penkevich wrote: "The anatomy of a Holmes story, my dear sister!"

Don't tempt me with Holmes related things you know I have a hard time resisting ha.

s.penkevich Ha okay fine go study! Good luck on your exam. But if you choose to read some Gaiman instead I'm sure your professor will understand. As long as they aren't secretly Professor Moriarty...

message 14: by Richard (new)

Richard I like the way Gaiman gives introductions or notes in which he offers glimpses of the background of his stories and insights into the writing process.

s.penkevich Richard wrote: "I like the way Gaiman gives introductions or notes in which he offers glimpses of the background of his stories and insights into the writing process."

Yeah me too, I wish more authors did that. I found myself almost more interested in what Gaiman had to say about his stories than the stories themselves. He seems like such a chill guy.

s.penkevich Scott wrote: "In Smoke and Mirrors he actually plants a story into the introduction. The whole collection could've been a book-length introduction for all I cared."

That is a cool idea. Adds a bit of incentive to those who typically skip introductions.

message 17: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Fantastic review! I love this comment from your review "revisit this infectious voice and break away from heavier reading into his eerie landscapes." It is Gaiman who helps me to keep moving thru Ulysses. Have you read "The Graveyard Book?"

message 18: by Will (new) - added it

Will Tomlinson "The introduction itself is just as enjoyable as the rest of the stories"

The introductions are also of great help, it can take a few pages to get into a story but with the short stories they can finish a page or two when you are in in the flow. However the introductions get you nice an ready for when you start reading.

s.penkevich Will wrote: ""The introduction itself is just as enjoyable as the rest of the stories"

The introductions are also of great help, it can take a few pages to get into a story but with the short stories they can ..."

Yeah, for sure, I really wish more collections had such a fleshed out introduction as this one with commentary on each story. Then again I always like to know whats going on 'behind the curtain' so to speak.

Dianae Have you read his Sandman Graphic novel series? Rich in imagery and dark magic. I've been reading it in small bites for a couple years.
Also, his new novella Ocean at the end of the Lane is simply sublime.

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