Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Eight

I'm writing this at work - shh, don't tell!

I'm a week behind on both the final Fragile Things post and the RIP IV challenge.  Better late than never, right?  As usual, here's the link to all of the final week's posts.  Since it's the last week, I'm also going to give you links to all of my posts up to now:

Our first (and fourth-to-last) selection was a poem, "The Day the Saucers Came."  I actually liked this poem's rhythm and pattern, so I'll share a stanza with you:
That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran
But you did not notice because (271)
Each stanza feeds into another (hence the abrupt stop above) and it flows well.  The content I'm not as big a fan of - zombies and similar horrors really aren't my thing - but I was still able to enjoy it.  The apparent point of the poem is for the narrator to list all of the horror some person could overlook in waiting for him to call, which was a bit of an underwhelming end and demonstrated exception immodesty but, you know, whatever.

"Sunbird" was a story that had me considering a Meatless Monday discussion but lets face it, it's unlikely that that will happen, so I'll just talk about here.  So there's an Epicurean Club of obnoxious, wealthy people whose sole goal seems to be to experience every possible thing on the planet via their gustatory systems.  As a vegetarian, I've got to say that I'm not a fan of people eating every living being they can't get their mouths on just for the hell of it.  They begin the story listing everything they've eaten - "vulture, mole, and fruitbat ... kakopo, aye-aye, and giant panda ... several long-extinct species" (274).  I think there's a bit of a problem when people choose to experience their world by digesting it rather than seeing and learning about it.  And yes, I know that this is a story, but there are a lot of people out there who couldn't give a crap about other cultures yet get their kicks from eating whatever weird new animal has made its way onto a menu.  But anyway.  The Epicurean Club is lamenting the fact that there's no new weird thing left to eat.  But their oldest member, who mysteriously dines on fireflies and coal, suggests the Sunbird (aka phoenix), so the party travels down to Egypt to catch and munch one.  They never seem to actually kill it, which I guess is the point with a phoenix, but they also don't seem bothered by the fact that they're eating an animal that's not dead.  But anyway.  So it turns out that phoenixes are delicious but they burn you up from the inside unless you train for it by eating fire and stuff beforehand, so you could say that the old dude tricked them but I'd say that they should not be eating mythical creatures to begin with.  We'll call it a draw?  I had a hard time thinking about this story in a literary sense because I was so bothered about it, so I'm sorry for the uselessness of this paragraph.  Ah well.

"Inventing Aladdin" was a poem about a woman who tells stories to stay alive.  Literally.  If she runs out of stories to tell and her husband gets bored, he will kill her.  This was obviously a fictional creation of how Aladdin came to be, but I like it.  There are some things that will never be known, and this was a good an explanation as any.  I tend to like historical fiction (though I rarely read it) and this definitely falls into that category.  AND, me liking it sets us up for a strong ending...

...which, fortunately, the book had.  The collection ends with a novella, "The Monarch of the Glen."  It apparently is connected with American Gods, which I have never read and now want to.  Which is rather impressive, considering the fact that for most of the book I was all "meh" and then it ends and I somehow want more.  Clever, Mr. Gaiman.  Very clever.

So "The Monarch of the Glen" tells of a creepy place filled with monsters and rich people who delight in barbarism.  This place is called Scotland.  Which I am now a little scared to visit and has also jumped to the top of my list of places to visit.  Our main character is called Shadow, and he is large, large enough to be called a monster and to be selected as a last-minute "security guard" at a party for people he's never allowed to talk about.  Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice from "Keepsakes and Treasures" make another appearance, which was a pleasant surprise.  So does Grendel, or some Grendel-like creature, which was odd and made me want to revisit the story of Beowulf, which I think I last read in 2003 for junior year English.  I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say that this story was creepy, evocative, and shows what Gaiman can accomplish with more words than he uses in most of the pieces in this collection.  It was a great way to end the book.

Overall, I'm not sure that I really enjoyed this book, but I don't regret doing the group read.  It was nice to feel like I was in a book club, even if I was that obnoxious member that never does the reading on time.  A commitment like this was a bit too much too pile on top of grad school, but I've got nobody to answer to but myself, so deal. :] This also brings the RIP challenge to a close for me (I managed to stretch it out a bit), but I look forward to next year and to Carl's spring challenge devoted to fairy tales (I already have a book ready for that). 

Next I'll be reading The Boat by Nam Le, another collection of short stories.  I also have a books up my sleeve that I still need to write reviews for (The Help, The Awakening, and Neverwhere) so look out for that.  And I'm deciding what book to read over Thanksgiving, since I know I won't be devoting the whole week off to getting ahead on school work.  I'm thinking The Difference Machine, which I've had sitting on my shelf for several months now.  Thoughts?

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