Author: Neil Gaiman
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: 2006
Miscellaneous: This is a P.S. edition
Colors seemed brighter because Becky was there. I began to notice parts of life I had never seen before: I saw the elegant intricacy of flowers, because Becky loved flowers; I became a fan of silent movies, because Becky loved silent movies, and I watched The Thief of Baghdad and Sherlock Junior over and over; I began to accumulate CDs and tapes, because Becky loved music, and I loved her, and I loved to love what she loved. I had never heard music before; never understood the black-and-white grace of a silent clown before; never touched or smelled or properly looked at a flower, before I met her.
-Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “How Do You Think It Feels?”, pages 196-197.
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders is my first experience with Gaiman, but it will most certainly NOT be my last. I am absolutely impressed with Gaiman’s writing, imagination, skill as a storyteller (a weaver of magic, really), and this book will be one of the few books I read that will NOT be posted in my BookMooch or PBS inventory. Truly, Fragile Things is now one of my favorite books, and I want to read it again and again until the pages fall out, then tape them all back in and read it again and again until the ink has worn away.
There is much in Fragile Things that should count as literature and should, in time, be counted as classic literature. Reading a bit like Bradbury (one of the stories is dedicated to him, who, as Gaiman puts it, could have written it much better than Gaiman himself.), mixed with C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll… even a bit of a feel of Roald Dahl and The Brothers Grimm, Gaiman weaves stories and poems that capture the sensations of dreaming, while being mesmerizing and excited the reader’s anticipation at the same time.
I could write a book on this book, and if I were a literature teacher, I would definately use Fragile Things as one of the books to pull from (or at least parts of the book… while my library has classified this book as a Young Adult, I believe it should be in the adult section, as more than a couple stories deal with, hint at, or just out and out have sexually explicit content, as well as the liberal use of the word “fuck” in a couple stories.).
As this book contains fourteen different works, I’m not going to review each one. Instead, I want to bring out a few of my favorites. First off, I want to share what is now one of my favorite poems. As a poet, Gaiman has a Shel Silverstein feel, as well, who is one of my favorite poets.
(A wodwo, or wodwose, was a wild man if the woods.)
Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life
Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves
Going in search of food and for a spring
Of sweet water.
I’ll find a tree as wide as ten fat men
Clear water rilling over its gray roots
Berries I’ll find, and crabapples and nuts.
And call it home.
I’ll tell the wind my name, and no one else.
True madness takes or leaves us in the wood
halfway through all our lives. My skin will be
my face now.
I must be nuts. Sense left with shoes and house,
my guts are cramped. I’ll stumble through the green
back to my roots, and leaves and thorns and buds,
I’ll leave the way of words to walk the wood
I’ll be the forest’s man, and greet the sun,
And feel the silence blossom on my tongue
-Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “Going Wodwo” page 83
The first short story is called “A Study in Emerald”in which Gaiman marries the world of Sherlock Holmes to a world H. P. Lovecraft might create. The resulting work retains the essence of Holmes, while the subtleties of the London of New Albion, the England of an alternate timeline, slowly bloom with the discovery of the name of the murder being a surprise to any Holmes fan.
The short story, “Other People”, is one of my favorites and I’ve already read it three times, and plan to copy it to MSWorks and save it to my computer. It’s shocking, a bit terrifying, and, in the end, a sense of resignation and acceptance of “the way things are” are felt by the reader. “Other People” paints a suppositional picture of Hell, one in which I could totally believe, where after agonizing physical torture is followed by the reliving, re-experiencing, recounting, every bad thing the man has done or lies told, and stretches his realization of how these things effected the people not only in his life, but also strangers he’d never even known. And once all that is done and all that he is left with is truth and self-loathing, he fully understands how things work there. The first and last line of this story is “Time is fluid here,” and it is.
The short story “Goliath”was a story commissioned for The Matrix website to accompany the release of the movie. After reading the script for the movie, Gaiman wrote “Goliath”. It is NOT a short story version of the movie, but rather, takes the concept of humans living in the pods, their brains being used as RAM for a supercomputer. The hero of the story suffers from gigantism and has always felt out of place and clumsy. But it’s all revealed to him why he was created that way, which gives him a sense of purpose and joy… but that joy is short lived when he realizes he is just an expendable part of the machinery to those running the machine. The last 28 minutes of his life makes you ask yourself the question: Would you choose the red pill or blue pill?
THE DAY THE SAUCERS CAME
That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice it because
That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because
On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was
Rangnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because
On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land, and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because
That day, the saucer day the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day, the
day the great winds came
And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.
-Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “The Day The Saucers Came” pages 271-272
Adding to the amazing creativity contained within these pages, the order of the stories and poems have been painstakingly and very effectively arranged so that each progressive story builds on the previous, giving a reader something not felt in most short story collections: continuity.
I give Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman five out of five stars, and place it on my shelf next to my Lord of the Rings collection, complete works of Lewis Carroll, my Chronicles of Narnia collection, my Grimms and Andersens. A true classic of storytelling.