Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fragile Things, a Review

Fragile Things is an entertaining collection of stories & thoughts from master story teller Neil Gaiman. There are a few pieces that fell flat for me, a few I just didn't get, but the majority were well worth the read.  I've created mini/micro-reviews of each piece of this collection.  For the most part, I listened to the audio book, which was narrated by Gaiman himself, making it an altogether pleasing experience.  I read a few (from the book that sits on my shelf), but I found I preferred hearing the author's voice.  I've boldfaced the stories that were my favorites from this collection.  I've also included links for many of these that are available to read legally (mostly) for free online.  If you've never read any Gaiman, this is a great collection to pick up and get an idea for the man's wonderful way with words.

Introduction: Very interesting and informative just seeing how many of these stories have won awards.

A Study in Emerald: This is a story of Sherlock Holmes meets something from Lovecraftian mythology. It was remarkably well done and fun to read a Gaiman take at this.  (Read the story stylized as a newspaper piece from Gaiman's website here [PDF warning].)

The Fairy Reel:  A poem that has to be read aloud and more than once. It flows so beautifully. I particularly love the lines "She'd pluck wild eagles from the air/ and nail me to a lightning tree." This poem is great when read by Gaiman himself, too.  (Read here.)

October in the Chair: A frame story, beginning with the months of the year sitting around a campfire and telling stories to each other. The main event, being told by October, is a tale of a young boy named the Runt and his running away from home. It's quite bittersweet. Melancholic, I'd say. The ending leaves plenty of room for thinking.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire: Beautifully written, but somewhat confusing. Great story.

Flints of Memory Lane: Odd. Is it a true memory of Gaiman, or a made-up memoir? Regardless, it's nice to read.

Closing Time: Another odd memory of Gaiman about a pub he used to frequent and an aspiring, alcoholic playwright that happened to own the pub. There are some collections of urban legends and folktales told between some of the characters. A "true" ghost story is finally told, of childhood, adolescence, and a haunted house. Very interesting.

Going wodwo: Very short. Some beautiful lines, but otherwise not memorable.

Bitter Grounds: A fascinating journey of a man who one day up and leaves his normal life and travels to New Orleans, on the way encountering some odd and interesting characters. I really enjoyed this story. Slightly confusing, slightly vulgar, but a very catchy story.  (Available from Tor.com here.)

Other People: This is the second tale I read from this book, and it sucked me in. I thoroughly enjoyed this short, dark piece.  Somewhat freaky, but a great tale.  (Read here.)

Keepsakes and Treasures: A man's disturbing tale of revenge, or a coming-of-age story of a killer. Very dark, very well written and a great grasp of character. "Takes all sorts to make a world, [as] I say." This piece had some heavy vulgarity and some rather nasty bits, but a quite interesting premise that kept me curious throughout it all. Feels quite noir styled. It's also probably related to American Gods and the novella included at the end of Fragile Things, "Monarch of the Glen."

Good Boys Deserve Favors: Boring. Not memorable.  Something about a musical instrument...

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch: A bizarre story about a group of friends that go to a circus and odd things happen.  Seems very Bradbury-esque.

The Problem of Susan:  Fascinating, eloquent, and great for fans of Narnia and fairy & folk tales. Certainly provocative and one rather disturbing part (ie, sex scene between Aslan & the White Queen).  Definitely not for children.

Instructions: An interesting set of instructions that lead to some fantastical place, possibly to a young girl embarking on a Alice-like journey. It's a fairy tale, though it's mode of presentation is unique. If a reader were trapped within the pages of a fairy tale, this piece would come in handy.  (Available to read here.)

How Do You Think It Feels?: An illicit affair story between the narrator and a woman named Becky. Quite, um, graphic toward the end. Definitely graphic and very adult. The end is very bleak and dark.

My Life: This is a hilarious poem about a man who's telling stories from his life. They're absurd, bizarre, ridiculous. Hysterical stuff, and very short. I highly recommend this read, if only for the humor of Gaiman's crazy story.

Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot: A collection of quasi-related flash pieces of fiction, all dealing with vampires and how people see them. This was an interesting little story that makes you think about vampires, and quite good.

Feeders and Eaters: This is a true story... pretty much. A man has fallen on hard times and tells his story at a bar, recalling an unsettling account involving an eerie old lady. It leaves you thinking when it's over something akin to Oh My.... "It's astonishing the things that people don't eat. All the things around them that people could eat, if only they knew it." This tale reminds me somewhat of Robby Boyle's horrifying opener "Blood" to the Stories anthology (my review), which happens to be edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio.  This story originated from a nightmare Gaiman had in his twenties.

Diseasemaker's Croup: A description of what the disease is, Diseasemaker's Croup. I can just picture an old poisoner rambling this off.

In the End: A somewhat retelling of the Fall of Man (Genesis 4). It reads almost as if it were from the bible.  Almost...

Goliath: A story set within the universe of The Matrix. It's about a very tall man and his encounter with the Matrix, primarily dealing with deja vu and other things that fit nicely in the Wachowski's universe. If one had no knowledge of the Matrix, this story could lose some of its meaning and instead might read like a drugged-out science fiction piece.

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between ulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky: A "love" story/journal thing. Meh.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties: The story of Enn & Vic and their adventure to a party, where Enn struggles to talk to the opposite sex. As it turns out, girls are rather hard to talk to, especially when they learn that the girls are foreign. This piece was funny, quirky, and quite enjoyable.  (Available as both audio and text here.)

The Day the Saucers Came: A humorous tale of Armageddon, mixing many end-of-the-world scenarios. Extremely short, and very funny.  (Highly recommend to read this very short poem.  It's reprinted here, though probably without permission.  Still, check it, and chuckle as I did.  Or, listen to Neil read it here.)

Sunbird: Reminds me slightly of Gaiman's Graveyard Book (my review) and the ghouls of the grave how they describe food. A story of Epicureans and their quest for the legendary Suntown Sunbird. Just a taste is what they're after. This story was rather delightful and oddly captivating. I was very curious as to how this would end, and what a great ending it was.

Inventing Aladdin: A story of Scheherazade telling the tale of Aladdin, and other tales from 1001 Nights. It's an origin story of the classic Arabian Nights and how they came to be.

The Monarch of the Glen: A novella of Gaiman's highly enjoyable and lauded American Gods, this story continues Shadow's journey. He's in Scotland, where he gets a job to work as security for a party at a very old estate. It fits nicely in the mythos of American Gods, and reads like a (lengthy) deleted scene. Enjoyable, true, but a bit anticlimactic in one sense, albeit beautifully so.


Anonymous said...

this is a good collection in which to be introduced to Gaiman's writing. i bet many translate really nicely through Gaiman's reading of it. He is so enjoyable to listen to.

October in the Chair is probably my favorite, but Talking to Girl's at Parties is funny. Closing Time still haunts me actually--Gaiman does creepy really well.

I like the way you did this review, and the way it turned out.

~L (omphaloskepsis)

logankstewart said...

@L: Yeah, I really enjoyed "October in the Chair," so much so that I actually read it myself and listened to Gaiman's audible version, too. What a great tale. And agreed. Gaiman does creepy reeeeealy well.


Carl V. said...

This is one of my absolute favorite short story collections. I read it when it first came out and have listened to it on audio (the stories I like) several times over.

By and large I think we liked the same ones. I'm not much of a fan of the more vulgar stuff in this collection. Those stories tended to not feel satisfying to me.

Really like the Miss Finch story in large part because I am a fan of Frank Frazetta and really like the Cave Girl painting it was based on. Fun to see what Gaiman can do with just a picture and a directive to make up a story about said image.

I actually like the Good Boys Deserve Favors story. Thought is was a fun *almost* true story.

I hate The Problem with Susan. The sexual stuff was completely unnecessary to the point Gaiman seemed to be wanting to make with the story. It sickened me that he went that far with it.

How to Talk to Girls was a story I thought was just okay when I read it, but then I heard Gaiman read it and saw it in a different light and just loved it.

Forbidden Brides is probably my favorite story in the collection because I have such a fondness for the old gothic tradition of storytelling. Those over the top, melodramatic horror stories. Too fun.

Monarch of the Glen is great. So great to see Shadow again.

I especially love hearing Gaiman read Instructions and Day the Saucers Came and The Fairy Reel. They were magical to read, much more so to hear in his voice.

So glad you decided to read this one, it is very good. Have you read the Smoke and Mirrors collection?

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Yeah, a lot of the vulgar stuff just seemed to be there as a shock inducer or as the grotesque to convey horror, which fell very flat for me. I, too, felt sickened by "The Problem with Susan," though I was enjoying it up to a point.

I have not read Smoke and Mirrors, though I'm sure I will one of these days.

Carl V. said...

It is a really great collection as well, with some fantastic stories. The first one, Chivalry, is wonderful and The Price is really good as well. But there are a lot of good ones in it, as well as a few that are not appealing to me, same as a few in Fragile Things.