Okay, so it would seem that being a full-time MSW student and a blogger are not terribly compatible. By which I mean that I missed not one but two planned posts and it took me five days to even acknowledge that fact (though I did notice at the time, there just wasn't anything I could do about it). Likewise, I apologize for being a terrible blog-friend and not having a chance to read other people's posts. I will try to atone but I can't make any promises until the semester ends.
I'm going to let this week's Meatless Monday pass us on by, since that's my own thing and it has no specific agenda other than to get you to stop eating that chicken-fried steak (don't lie, you know you are). However, I do want to make up for the Fragile Things post so that I'll be all caught up come tomorrow. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (though that's probably nobody since everybody and his mother is doing this), I'm reading Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman for the RIP IV challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. This is the third week, meaning stories 9-12. Check out week two here.
I want to start it off by saying that I liked this set of readings much better than the last. And I shall follow that by saying that I did not like the poem that we started out with. The lack of rhythm and broken, awkward phrasing in "Going Wodwo" just didn't do it for me. It's funny, because I used to really love poetry like this, with random breaks and whatnot, but I've lost my pleasure in it. Rhythm and sound games are what I want and if they're not there, I lack interest. I did like the idea it gave, of merging with the forest, but I did not like the half-line, "I must be nuts." This could have been something for me, but it just didn't work. Honestly though, I'm here for the stories, so I don't mind.
I did, however, like "Bitter Grounds," the story that comes next. Here, we follow a narrator on a bizarre trip around America in which he befriends a professor who soon disappears and assumes his identity, then has sex with some shaman-like woman in New Orleans (some other stuff happens too). We learn very little about the narrator's background and though the content of the story implies that he is unreliable (is he even alive?), he inspired my trust. I like this kind of "scary" story because it is definitely disturbing but for a reason that's not so clear. The unknowability of the situation and the way that the narrator seems both so close and so distant left me with a sense of lingering unease more profound than zombies at the door. "Bitter Grounds" definitely earns a reread, partially because it's good and partially to more fully understand it, though sadly I don't think I'll manage it for a while.
Next up was "Other People," a disturbing loop of a story in which the foreign becomes the familiar. A man is transformed from tortured to torturer, all by reliving the story of his life until he found the truth of it beneath all the layers of what he thought he knew about it. The thought that this subhuman comprehension could so destroy a man is horrifying and believable. The only thing lacking is the story of what the man in his life did to deserve this fate after death, but I would argue that that's the point - it could be anything. It could be the crimes of a tyrant or a serial killer. It could be whatever your life has been. Though Gaiman doesn't acknowledge it in the introduction, this story reminds me of No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre. Hell is not exactly other people here, but it is what you have made it. Great, and thought-provoking.
***Surprise story! I finally reached the point in the introduction with the freebie story that I've heard so much about. "The Mapmaker" is tucked in between the blurbs Gaiman wrote about the stories and poems in the texts. It begins confusingly, with a musing on tales and maps and how the best description of them are the story and lands themselves, making the tales and maps useless. This culminates in the line "The tale is the map which is the territory" (xix). I read this a couple of times and it just made my head spin, so I read on. The story takes the form of an oral myth, telling of an emperor of China who seems set on squandering his empire's fortune on perfectly scaled and detailed reproductions of it, first in miniature and then in life-size. The story was odd and not quite as compelling as I'd like until I went back to the first paragraph: a map can never capture the truth of the place, a retelling can never capture an experience. The original stands alone, always. I didn't love the story of the emperor, but I did find the idea behind it fascinating, though I don't know if I agree. The tale and the story are two different experiences, and difficult to compare.**
Finally, there is "Keepsakes and Treasures," an absolutely chilling tale of a man who avenges himself of the men who raped his mother and potentially fathered him, and then reveals his participation in the sexual subjugation of others, for his own and others' pleasure. This is no ghost tale - it's a story of how real people can go terribly wrong and it is all the more disturbing for that. Like Gaiman admits in his introduction, I want to know more about this horrifying character and am glad to hear that he will be making another appearance in the collection. Oh, and I'll leave you with this idea from the story: the richest men in the world aren't the ones you've heard of. The richest men in the world can pay a person more money than you can hope to earn in your lifetime to make sure you've never heard of them. Scared? Me too.
It seems that what I liked about this week's reading was the departure from the fantastic. Though the story in hell is unknowable and the story of the emperor is unlikely, these stories address human nature in a way that is far more disturbing than some of the stories we've seen thus far. Who needs goblins when you have human beings??