This was, thankfully, a poetry-free week. Our first story was "Good Boys Deserve Favors," a story that a man tells about his childhood in which he made half-hearted attempts to play the double bass, mostly because of the incongruity between its size and his own. This was an odd story. Odd, because even the narrator didn't seem sure what the point of it was. He frames it as a story he has never told his children - "I would be hard put to tell you quite why not" (134). The story was relatable - I myself have been that child whose musical ambitions have not matched my efforts (I failed to practice the flute). Other than that, though, I was left asking "and?" It's not a bad story, just one that I did not connect with, I suppose. Its role or purpose in the collection is a mystery to me and Gaiman failed to illuminate it, as it is missing from the introduction.
"The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" is another testament to Gaiman's love of the long title and the use of prepositions. It also fits much better in the collection, telling of the disappearance of a prim and irritating
"Strange Little Girls" was an underwhelming experience. Apparently Gaiman wrote these ten vignettes to accompany a Tori Amos album in which Ms. Amos creates a persona for each song, each of which Gaiman turned into a character sketch. Unfortunately, these didn't go beyond the level of character sketches for me and while interesting, I needed a bit more.
Finally, "Harlequin Valentine" tells of Harlequin's Valentine's Day, beginning with him nailing his own heart to his crush's door with a hatpin, and ends with him working as a line cook named Pete in a small-town diner. Though I knew nothing of Harlequin before beginning this, I did not mind - Gaiman does a good enough job portraying the character that I did not need background knowledge. And Missy, the object of Harlequin's affections, is great too - her reaction to finding a heart nailed to her door is to put it in a ziplock bag and tidy up. She later tricks Harlequin into losing his identity, assuming it herself. This is a lady I want to know (though now that she is Harlequin, I'd probably do better to leave her alone).
We're halfway through and thus far, it seems that this collection is very hit or miss for me. I read another collection of stories by Gaiman years ago, Smoke and Mirrors, and I remember feeling similarly. However, I've read two of his novels - Stardust and Neverwhere - and loved both. Judging by the fact that most of these stories seem to be commissions, perhaps novels are really his craft, and what I should stick to in the future. However, I've had enough enjoyable experiences with this collection to finish it out - I just hope the second half is a bit more satisfying.