Fragile Things Paperback – Apr 5 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Hot off the critical success of Anansi Boys, Gaiman offers this largely disappointing medley that feels like a collection of idea seeds that have yet to mature. Among the ground covered: an old woman eats her cat alive, slowly; two teenage boys fumble through a house party attended by preternaturally attractive aliens; a raven convinces a writer attempting realism to give way to fantastical inclinations. A few poems, heartfelt or playfully musical, pockmark the collection. At his best, Gaiman has a deft touch for surprise and inventiveness, and there are inspired moments, including one story that brings the months of the year to life and imagines them having a board meeting. (September is an "elegant creature of mock solicitude," while April is sensitive but cruel; they don't get along), but most of these stories rely too heavily on the stock-in-trade of horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Gaiman only once or twice gives himself the space necessary to lock the reader's attention.150,000 announced first printing.(Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School—In this collection of stories (and a few poems), storytellers and the act of storytelling have prominent roles. The anthropomorphized months of the year swap tales at their annual board meeting: a half-eaten man recounts how he made the acquaintance of his beloved cannibal; and even Scheherazade, surely the greatest storyteller of all, receives a tribute with a poem. The stories are by turns horrifying and fanciful, often blending the two with a little sex, violence, and humor. An introduction offers the genesis of each selection, itself a stealthy way of initiating teens into the art of writing short stories, and to some of the important authors of the genre. Gaiman cites his influences, and readers may readily see the inflection of H. P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury in many of the tales. Horror and fantasy are forms of literature wrought with clichés, but Gaiman usually comes up with an interesting new angle. This collection is more poetic and more restrained than Stephen King's short stories and more expertly written than China Mieville's Looking for Jake (Ballantine, 2005). Gaiman skips along the edge of many adolescent fascinations-life, death, the living dead, and the occult-and teens with a taste for the weird will enjoy this book—Emma Coleman, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Some "fragile things" describe dreams, others move effortlessly from actuality to visions of otherworldliness often taking the reader by surprise. Most of the stories in this collection have a serious, some a macabre, side to them. At the same time, humour and irony are natural companions. There is the young boy, ignored by his family and peers, who finally meets a friend and companion as he runs away to start a new life. A Harlequin character reinvents himself with every real life Valentine heart he sends to an object of his desire. Storytelling is a theme for many of the characters in the collection. In "October in the Chair" we listen in as every month competes for the best story that the others haven't heard before. Many of the stories were inspired by other writers and friends and fiction pieces were written for their magazines or anthologies.
While each of the stories has been published previously, it is a treat to have them collected in one volume. Every piece stands by itself, yet, when read contiguously each adds elements to a whole creating for the reader a complex tapestry of imaginary lives. Anybody who has read other Gaiman books will welcome his volume. For newcomers, Fragile Things is a great introduction to his work. [Friederike Knabe]
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you like Neil Gaiman's other works, you'll like these stories; if you don't, you probably won't; if you don't know whether you do or not, but you're interested enough to read Amazon reviews, then this collection provides a magnificent place to start.
I will focus on the flaws, not because the collection is flawed, or because any of these flaws are significant in comparison with the compelling and powerful strengths of the stories, but because the stories are so good that a list of their virtues would become boring ("this story is the best story about this thing since Neil Gaiman's last story about this thing.")
1) Some, most, or perhaps all of these stories have appeared in prior publications; I believe "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" and "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" were in some editions of Smoke and Mirrors, "A Study in Emerald" was available for a long time (if it isn't still) on Neil Gaiman's website, "Harlequin Valentine" has been available as a small illustrated hardcover for a long time now, etc. If you're enough of a Neil Gaiman fan to have tracked down all those disparate stories, though, in all those disparate places, this single volume will probably be a marked convenience.
2) There are stories in here that are unsettling, but none that I would classify as actually *scary* -- the sort of horror, if it can be called horror, that becomes more frightening the more imaginative you are, the way a particularly startling pattern of shadows might terrify a child but have no effect whatsoever on a more rationally-minded adult. Long time readers of Gaiman won't consider this a flaw, but rather a virtue - subtlety is far rarer in fiction these days, and far more difficult to achieve, than simple raw horror - but I mention it as a caveat to the virgin.
3) I personally felt that some of the outside references in the stories fell a bit flat, and a few of the stories fell a bit short of Gaiman's best work. The reworking of Beowulf here ("The Monarch of the Glen") was not as effective as his earlier "Bay Wolf", and felt a bit like a pastiche of Gaiman's other characters, plus Grendel. On the other hand, "The Problem of Susan" may be the most effective and disturbing reworking of a children's story since Gaiman's own "Snow, Glass, Apples" in _Smoke and Mirrors_, and "A Study in Emerald" is simultaneously one of the best Lovecraft pastiches and one of the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I've ever seen.
The following stories are contained in this collection:
1) An introduction where Gaiman details some background on each of the stories, and includes a short-short story on its own as well (titled "The Mapmaker")
2) A Study in Emerald
3) The Fairy Reel (poem)
4) October in the Chair
5) The Hidden Chamber
6) Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
7) The Flints of Memory Lane
8) Closing Time
9) Going Wodwo (poem)
10) Bitter Grounds
11) Other People
12) Keepsakes and Treasures
13) Good Boys Deserve Favors
14) The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch
15) Strange Little Girls
16) Harlequin Valentine
18) The Problem of Susan
20) How Do You Think It Feels?
21) My Life
22) Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot
23) Feeders and Eaters
24) Diseasemaker's Croup
25) In the End
27) Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky
28) How to Talk to Girls at Parties
29) The Day the Saucers Came
31) Inventing Aladdin
32) The Monarch of the Glen
But end it does. From there in, the tales range from:
-- the unbelievable ("Keepsakes and Treasures") and yes, I use the word advisedly...
-- to the uninspired ("Good Boys Deserve Favors")...
-- to the unfortunate, namely, CD liner notes for Neil's "personal friend," Tori Amos ("Strange Little Girls")...
-- and sometimes, back to the excellent ("The Monarch of the Glen," among others).
I think that part of the problem with the material stems from the fact that people apparently ring Gaiman asking him to contribute for specialty anthologies. ("Neil, I'm putting together a collection of stories about gargoyles. Are you in?") This type of "spec work" is perhaps not the best way to seek inspiration. So to continue my previous analogy, this book's substandard material should be thought of as a CD's bonus tracks.
That said, FRAGILE THINGS is a mostly enjoyable read, and to reiterate, the first third of the book alone is worth the price of admission.
The gulf between the stories can be described by comparing two of them: "October in the Chair" and "Good Boys Deserve Favors." Dedicated to Ray Bradbury, "October" reinvents Bradbury's wonderful mingling of the fantastic with the bitter reality of childhood. The personifications of the months of the year gather to tell stories, and October ("his beard was all colors, a grove of trees in autumn, deep brown and fire-orange and wine-red, an untrimmed tangle across the lower half of his face") describes the short, bitter life of Runt, a boy who's bullied by his elder twin brothers and pitied by his parents. He runs away from home and, on the edge of town, by an abandoned farmhouse, befriends the ghost of a boy. It's a sad tale, with a sad ending that could also be thought of as a happy ending.
"Good Boys" is a nicely written story about another boy, at public school, who takes up the double bass because he has to learn an instrument, and he likes the notion of a small boy playing a big instrument. He neglects his lessons, preferring to read, and then one day, while not practicing, he's visited by adults who ask him to play. He simply plays, and plays beautifully. Later, he accidentally breaks the bass, but the repairs have drained it of whatever magic it held. He transfers to another school and stops playing the bass ("The thought of changing to a new instrument seemed vaguely disloyal, while the dusty black bass that sat in a cupboard in my new school's music rooms seemed to have taken a dislike to me."). Puberty hits, and that's the end of it.
"Good Boys" may be a simple story about a block-headed student who encounters a magic that leaves him unmarked. Gaiman's men in several stories share that indifference. Bizarre things happen to people they to encounter (the waspish guest in "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch") or barely know (the long-ago co-worker encountered again in the gruesome "Feeders and Eaters"), and their response is a blank stare followed by a "well, that was interesting." It's English understatement bordering on ennui.
Gaiman mentions in his introduction writing stories "told in the first person and were slices of lives," so "Good Boys" may be meant to start and end without really going anywhere.
In my nastier moments, I'd think that he had the germ of a better story and couldn't be buggered to finish it.
"Fragile Things" contains some excellent stories as well. Fans of "American Gods" will appreciate Shadow's return in the novella "The Monarch of the Glen." "A Study in Emerald" crosses Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft and the result is rarely encountered after generations of Holmes pastiches: a clever tale that's worthy of Alan Moore. "Goliath" is a better "Matrix" story than most of the films. "Harlequin Valentine" and "How Do You Think It Feels?" are memorably twisted love stories and "Keepsakes and Treasures" a surprisingly nasty tale to those who've forgotten "Sandman" stories like "24 Hours."
The better Gaiman tales are inhabited by the human heart, with all its passion and pain. His stories are better when his people bleed.
Gaiman is correct in stating that his tribute to Ray Bradbury, "October in the Chair," would have been better written by Bradbury himself, and tributes to other works like "Goliath" (The Matrix) and "The Problem of Susan" (Narnia) are vanity pieces at best. Some stories such as "Diseasemaker's Croup" are disappointinggly anemic snippets of thin and fanciful ideas, with probably more reward for the writer than the reader. This book's examples of Gaiman's poetry and targeted prose (such as the snippets written for the Strange Little Girls album by Tori Amos) are intriguing but directionless, and the majority of short stories are just plain unmemorable. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers and I recommend his novels whole-heartedly. But this collection is surely not appropriate for the casual fan, and even serious fans will probably find it disappointing and a bit self-indulgent. [~doomsdayer520~]
First, I've got to say that I'm entranced by the cover, which is translucent white paper over a white cover with, well, fragile things on it, such as a butterfly, a snowflake, and a human heart. Notice how that last one sneaks up on you? What a perfect warning (or appetite whetting) for how Gaiman's stories sneak up on you.
As a fan of his earlier work, American Gods, I started with the novella "Monarch of the Glen," which picks back up with Shadow, the main character of that novel. Shadow's been doing some travel and has ended up in middle-of-nowhere Scotland. As you might imagine if you've read American Gods, someone improbable asks Shadow to take a job as a, well, let's call it security enforcer. Except of course that the castle in which he's supposed to perform this task for a large party of very wealthy people isn't on any of the survey maps. Add to that a woman named Jennie who isn't what she seems and doesn't want Shadow to take this job, and we're already on the way to another scrunched up forehead, feverish reading moment.
In "Sunbird," we get to meet the members of the Epicurean Club, including Augustus TwoFeathers McCoy (and his daughter Hollyberry NoFeathers McCoy), who ate and drank enough for many men; Professor Mandalay, who one was never quite sure was really there; Jackie Newhouse, a descendant of Casanova; Virginia Boote, a now-ruined beauty; and, of course, Zebediah T. Crawcrustle, the poorest member of the club, who'd been around since, well, nobody's quite sure. At the moment when the club is sure they've tried every food there is to try, from vulture, to beetle (although not quite every kind of beetle), to panda and mammoth, Crawcrustle suggests that grilled Sunbird hasn't been done in a long time, and they would definitely enjoy it. So, they make preparations to go catch and eat the Sunbird (one has to go to Cairo to do so, you know), but Crawcrustle may have left out one or two small details in how the whole process works.
Don't miss Gaiman's take on the legend of Bluebeard in "The Hidden Chamber." One of my favorite types of book or story to read is one that takes a myth, legend, or tale that we all know, in one version, and goes farther or deeper with it. I think part of what I like is knowing some background - I like feeling intelligent after all -- but not reading exactly the same story over again. Gaiman is a master at this -- "Monarch of the Glen" does it in more ways than even the obvious one of the Norse legends that Shadow and his boss Wednesday arose from, "The Problem of Susan" and "Inventing Aladdin" do this in another way, and "The Hidden Chamber" takes yet another direction in re-imagining Bluebeard.
Many of the stories are not brand new, although they've not been collected together before and you would have had to go far and wide to capture them all. One favorite example is "The Problem of Susan," which pays homage to, and deals with some difficult issues in, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. I also enjoyed getting reacquainted with "A Study in Emerald," which combines Gaiman's sense of humor and the irrationality (as he puts it) of H.P. Lovecraft, with the utter rationality (again, Gaiman's sense) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The story won a Hugo, which was quite enough recommendation for me, but also evokes a just slightly not our Victorian England in a way that made me think of the best of "Doctor Who" or Robert Heinlein.
In any case, all the stories I've savored have been delicious and the Epicureans would've been coming back for seconds or thirds had this been on their plates. Enjoy.