Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Four

On to week three of the Fragile Things group read.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here.  If you missed my week three post, which I only managed to put up yesterday, you can check it out here.  Check out the rest of the participants' reviews here.  And off we go!

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 biologist biogeologist at a second-rate circus.  The story is broken into chunks based on the rooms of the circus, and sometimes the text of the narrative interacts with the subheadings, which was pleasantly unexpected.  The story is strange, asking questions it does not answer, like why the narrator and her friends get into the circus for free, and how the circus manages to raise prehistoric beasts at Miss Finch's command.  I don't mind unanswered questions however - it is the way of life - and I enjoyed this little story.  It made me wonder.

"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.


  1. I had to laugh at your "poetry free week" statement since two of our offerings next week are poems. Hopefully at least one of them will do something for you, they are both very good.

    Actually Good Boys Deserve Favors isn't missing from the introduction, if you look again you'll see it and The Flints of Memory Lane are lumped together in one explanation. I believe the reason is that they are two similar "non-story-shaped" stories that are ostensibly true stories from his childhood. Your reaction to it seems to match what some had for Flints as well. I actually love both stories, feeling that they do have a point, actually several, but one being that they are the kind of stories of things that happen to us in real life, slices of our lives that might contain something magical or mysterious or bizarre that we cannot help but tell stories about.

    Miss Finch does indeed make a person wonder. Glad you enjoyed it. I wish I knew how to describe it, but it is the kind of story with questions unanswered that I enjoy while last week's Bitter Grounds is one that doesn't work for me and that I ultimately find disappointed.

    I look at inclusions like "Strange Little Girls" as a freebie. They aren't what I bought the book, or the audio book either, for, but they are in there and I can take them or leave them. I'm a fan of Gaiman, and (as a later story will prove) am a fan of little story snippets, but this one just does nothing at all for me. I'm glad to have it in the collection from a completist perspective, but other than that I don't feel it is something I ever need to experience again.

    I think short story collections in general are hit and miss and while I think Gaiman does them brilliantly, at times, he does have his misses. Though if anything this little group read has proven that a miss for one is often a hit for another, LOL!

  2. I loved "Good Boys"! lol. I thought that it worked well as a kind of 'buddy story' for "Flints of Memory Lane", and appreciated a Gaiman story that just kind of played with the 'other', with magic and the mystical, as opposed to just full out smacking the story with it.

    I'm glad to see that everyone else seemed to enjoy "Miss Finch" much more than I did - I loved the circus aspect, but not so much any of the rest of it. I think I just my first read, and was never able to get in to it. I'm also noticing that a couple of different people are having trouble enjoying "Strange Little Girls" and I'm starting to wonder whether it's the Neil Gaiman or the Tori Amos behind these little vignettes I loved so much! I'm all for a good character study!

    I know what you mean about the stories being hit or miss. I mean, for the most part I find that I'm liking the stories, but each week does seem to have it's own set of stumbling blocks. I think I might also have to stick to Gaiman's novels, but I'm enjoying having this time in Neil's storyland! Can't wait to hear what you have to say next week.
    - Chelsea

  3. I liked Good Boys so much more than Flints, but then again, I was able to identify with the main character because I was one of those kids who attempted/pretended to play an instrument in band.

    I didn't care that much for Strange Little Girls. I liked the descriptions, but felt like it could have had a broader overarching theme/point/story.

  4. It's funny how we're all turning out to be people who, like Neil, didn't really do our music practice! But I guess that's why we're here talking about books and not out playing first violin or having a gruelling tour. It does seem to mean that we can identify with the narrator in Good Boys...

    I laughed at your poetry-free week! There's a wonderful poem (I think) at the start of Smoke and Mirrors.