Book Eighteen: Fragile Things

You’re probably reeling in disbelief about there being three Book Project posts in one day, especially given that two of the books are pretty lengthy, but I really did just finish Fragile Things, and I did say that I was going to report on every book I read this year. And, to be fair, I started Road From Ar Ramadi last night and finished it this morning, so I didn’t actually really all three books in one day. This is what I do in the rain, is read all day (and cook). I thought about making a lemon tart, but I’m making a lemon meringue pie later next week, so I felt like it would be kind of silly to make a tart today and a pie in six days, so I didn’t. But if this weather keeps up, I might make a tart this weekend anyway.

I do hope the rain lets up long enough for me to hit the library, as I apparently have a stack of books on hold there.

At any rate, Fragile Things is a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman.  I didn’t used to like short stories, but in recent years I have grown fond of them. For one thing, you can bounce about and navigate however you please. For another, when a story is bad or not interesting, you can skim over it and not feel as guilty as you would for not reading a whole book.

And these short stories are incredibly varied, so it would be fair to say that some of them didn’t really grip me. I also hate poetry, and a few poems were included in the book, so I kind of glided over those rather than actually reading them (which explains why I was able to read the book in a few hours).  I liked “Harlequin Valentine,” “A Study in Emerald,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire.” I don’t want to get into details, because I wouldn’t want to ruin the book for you if you’re planning on reading it.

Neil Gaiman is an interesting sort of man, and these were interesting sorts of stories. Some were certainly better crafted than others, and in some of them it almost seemed like he was trying a bit too hard to be macabre. “The Problem of Susan” bordered on the pornographic, and it was really quite strange; when I went back to read the introduction* I noted that he had been very sick before writing this story, and I think that explains a lot.

Many of the stories had a note of tension, and I kept waiting for something awful to happen. I like that in a story; it’s not the sort of thing you can keep up in a full length book, but it is something that works in a shorter piece. As my friend Tristan points out in his criticism of The Sparrow, “I really hate this kind of something is going to happen, SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN, type writing. I feel like it is a stupid shitty way to build false excitement.”  As a general rule, I agree, because I think that the process of maintaining tension throughout a book is very challenging, and most authors cannot accomplish it. But in short stories, it generally works (although sometimes it just covers up for an author’s inadequacy). There’s also something delightful about reading a story which is structured in that way, and then never finding out what happens, because this allows your imagination to construct something truly awful.

Gaiman has a very Southern Gothic feel, which is interesting, because he’s British. But he manages to pull it off with flair, and I dig that.

*I read introductions after I read books. I like to approach a book with a minimal amount of personal prejudice, and I feel like introductions really ruin books for me. So typically I read a book and then skip back to read the introduction, along with the ending author’s notes and so forth. I find that this system allows me to appreciate books more, approaching them with an uncluttered mind.

Demographics:

Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman. Published 2006, 360 pages. Short stories.