Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings in honor of RIP VI. If you missed week one and/or have no idea what I'm talking about, go check out my post from last week!
Okay, I'm just going to say it up front: I did not love this week's selections. Nor did I like them very much.
This week's chunk of readings started with a poem, "The Hidden Chamber." Unlike "The Fairy Reel," which we read last week, "Chamber" lacked a specific structure. I want to call this a prose poem, but according to Janet Burroway in Imaginative Writing*, a prose poem is actually "A poem that is not written in lines but continues to the margins of the page like prose" (359). I suppose it's actually free verse, but to me it seems more like prose with odd line breaks. There's very little apparent rhythm and it doesn't lend itself to reading aloud, which is generally a feature of poetry that I enjoy. In terms of content, it's a bit gothic, replete with ghosts hidden away and dead butterflies. I like ghosts, but this did nothing for me. Overall, the poem was a somewhat meh experience.
Though I didn't love the "The Hidden Chamber," I did appreciate its relationship with the story that followed it. "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (yes really) is a very gothic tale, including ghosts and sword fights and things that go bump in the night. Structurally, it is a story within a story: we first see a woman running out of the dark up to the door of a creepy house; it is only later that we learn that her story is being written by a writer struggling with his craft. I loved how the themes continued between the two and how the story almost seemed and extension of the poem, but I found the scariness in "Forbidden Brides" overdone. What I did appreciate about it, was that in the story goblins are a reality and the world of stockbrokers and toasters is the fantasy. However, for me this wasn't enough to save it. In fact, it seemed a little gimmicky - I both enjoyed the cleverness and questioned its integrity. Plus, the title is just way too long.
Up next is "The Flints of Memory Lane," in which a teenage boy sees a ghostly woman with a scary smile at the end of his driveway, freaks out, and runs across town to his friend's house and calls his parents to pick him up. That's it. It's about three pages long and wholly underwhelming. I suppose it's also about an insecure narrator, since he questions whether his ghost story is really a ghost story, but rightly so. In terms of interesting connections making stories somewhat more interesting, "Flints" is connected to the next story in that both feature a building sold to property developers, which also did very little for me.
"Closing Time," this week's final story, is yet another ghost story, this time told to the narrator's companions at a bar. The narrator recalls his youth, when he had formed an instantaneous yet temporary friendship with three brothers over several pages from an old, girly magazine. They stumble into a poorly described fairy world and upon a little house with a demonic red knocker, into which the three brothers disappear. I actually liked this story, as it demonstrated the interesting bond that strange children are able to form so easily, and evoked a creepiness that the blatant gothic style of the poem and "Faceless Brides" lacked and "Flints" couldn't hope for. However, the outer story in which the tale of the fairy world was nested is distracting and weird, and not in a good way. The narrator tells about the background of the bar - okay. Then he describes the specific night on which the story is told and mentions that there were four customers there, including himself. He repeats a few ghost stories that were told and follows that with, "And then one of us said," refusing to name the customer who tells the story of the fairy world. Based on the end of the frame, it can only be the narrator who tells this story, yet he refused to admit to it. Why? This conundrum is not interesting to me, as perhaps Gaiman intended, but confusing and irritating, and ended up tainting the only ghost story I enjoyed this week.
I read all of the stories on different days, so I don't think it was something I brought to them that made them so disappointing. Gaiman seems to lean pretty heavily on the story-within-a-story trope, as all three of these stories rely on it. While I loved his use of it in "October in the Chair," this time around Gaiman disappointed me. The frames were uninteresting and largely unnecessary, except perhaps in "Faceless Brides." Overall, I found that these stories didn't at all live up to the expectations that last week's built in me. I'm hoping that next week's redeem the collection in my eyes.
*This is a creative writing textbook that I really like - enough so that I actually bought the author's book devoted entirely to fiction writing as well. I definitely recommend it!