Comics

Wednesday Mini Book Review: Fragile Things

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The relentless onslaught of weekly mini book reviews continues.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2006). In reviewing an earlier short story collection by Neil Gaiman (bestselling novelist, author of the Sandman comic book, Friend of Tori, inadvertent goth icon) back in 1998 for Mother Jones, I wrote: "Short fiction like Gaiman's, in the tradition of Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury, rarely gets the respect it deserves. But Gaiman knows what all the best fantasists know: The impossible is sometimes the best way to illuminate certain out-of-the-way crannies in the human soul, as he does here to heartbreaking effect."

It's still true. This new collection, by the by, is dedicated to the two writers in whose spirit I detected Gaiman working–plus Robert Sheckley, who I would argue, despite his many merits, isn't in quite the same class as those two, or of Gaiman himself, who continues to create a body of witty, smart, emotional contemporary fiction in worlds of magic and the impossible, rich in character and invention, that makes him a true master of his form equal to any predecessor.

In this volume, highlights include tales of a wanderer who carelessly picks up the life of an missing anthropologist and finds himself deep in the mysterious muck of New Orleans voodoo ("Bitter Grounds"); a couple of adventures of strangely endearing henchman Mr. Smith's bizarre errands for the ridiculously rich and impassively sinister Mr. Alice ("Keepsakes and Treasures" and "The Monarch of the Glen"–the latter also intersects with the world of Gaiman's very good novel American Gods and functions as a modern retelling of Beowolf); an unpleasant dinner companion falling under the spell of a circus of dark whimsy and absurdist-frightening mystery ("The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch"); a lonely awkward outsider teenager trying to make it with alien girls at a dreamlike party ("How to Talk to Girls at Parties"). Gaiman offers skilled and affectionate pastiches or homages to the worlds of Narnia, the Matrix, and R.A. Lafferty, and there's not a limp stalk in the bunch, every story or vignette marbled skillfully with fine, spicy veins of the strange and disturbing winding through worlds, and hearts, solidly and touchingly real.

Don't let not being as impressed by Sandman as the rest of the world seems to be stop you–I'm no Endlessophile myself, but this stuff'll bust your brains out. Even the short fantasy poems sprinkled throughout are winners.

NEXT: Don't Speak/ I Know What You're Thinking/ I Don't Need Your Reasons

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  1. I wasn’t impressed with the poems, but the rest of the book was great. Some of the stories were too poignant to read more than a few at a time, though.

  2. I listened to the audio book of this, which is read by Gaiman, and is available at a few sites as cheap downloadable mp3s.
    Gaiman is an excellent reader, and has a competent grasp of accents.

  3. By the way, there’s no post-author credit on this post. How will people know whether to mock this with Dave-Wiegal-Democrat-Shill jokes or Ronald-Bailey-must-own-stock-in-the-book-company jokes?

  4. It’s by Brian Doherty, and if you refresh I think the byline should be there for all to see.

  5. It’s by Brian Doherty

    So, I guess the author is a Burner then.

  6. Ah, there it is.

    On topic, I’ve never had a chance to pick up any of his novels, and I’m not a big graphic noveler, but I did quite enjoy the BBC production of Neverwhere, which I happened upon by happy accident on KERA. I also quite enjoyed Mirrormask. Both are delightfully imaginative, and I Dave McKean’s visuals in Mirrormask as some of the most creative in film.

  7. Brian, your mixing of animal and vegetable metaphors clouds my mind and drives before it visions of Cyclopean towers and Stygian depths, of haunted corridors faintly scented with an odious perfume, of colors to which no man has attributed a name, of abhorrent melodies played by squamous creatures on horribly carved flutes.

    So, like, easy on the mixed metaphors, unless you like that sort of thing.

  8. And I’m inexplicably hungry for a ribeye with a side of asperagus.

  9. Larry—-That’s exactly the effect I was trying to achieve!

  10. Death: The High Cost of Living is quite good

  11. Curses!

  12. I just read his “Anansi Boys” novel, which was quite good. The premise is that a bloke’s father dies and the son discovers his dad was actually a Spider God! Also liked the whimsy of ‘nancy boy’ and his surname! At the back of the book is a listing of other novels, including an audio book read by Lenny Henry, a very funny Brit comedian.
    http://www.lennyhenry.com/home/index.aspx

  13. Thanks for this tip; I enjoy Gaiman in small doses, I think he does better in short stories than novels. I am glad you mention Harlan Ellison as well, I have worn out several copies of his collected works. I will be looking to purchase this, but the audiobook idea is also intriguing.

  14. Good to hear from SFC SKI that Gaiman’s short stories are better than his novels, and that most of you seem to like his short stuff, because having only read American Gods, I don’t see why he is so popular. I know he has lots of fans and has sold a hell of a lot of books, so many will disagree with my comments, but I wrote about that novel here. Maybe something shorter is worth a try and I shouldn’t judge him from that one book. I will refrain from plugging a novel that, in my unbiased, objective opinion, is a better use of your reading time (no matter what Alice Pitney thinks).

  15. ‘Lenny Henry, a very funny Brit comedian.’

    No dude. No. Lenny is not funny.

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