Hello out there and welcome to this installment in Another Year of Fiction (AYOF). Last time I reviewed the major lessons that we can surmise from Jack London’s best works. Now I have pivoted to a short-story mindset in the hopes of gaining similar wisdom from the greats. To that end, my wife generously bought me Neil Gaiman’s 2006 story collection Fragile Things.
This collection contains mainly work the great comic/children’s book/fiction/mythology writer has published elsewhere, in other fantasy mixings or places like the liner notes of a Tori Amos CD. I must admit my love for the world of comic books is intensified when it comes to this man’s contributions, and while I’ve barely begun the epic Sandman series in its entirety, it probably should be a goal of mine to finish next year (I plan on mixing this experiment up a bit if we survive until then, spoiler alert, etc.)
All of that being said, I found it rather difficult to get into some of these tales. But before I get to my moronic griping about this iconic figure, let’s take a look at the major lessons from these stories.
Story within a story. Gaiman uses this in a few collaborative and commissioned pieces, and while I’m not sure I would ever want to use the technique it is very interesting. One story he considered a first attempt at The Graveyard Book, but is introduced in a completely different way. Another begins as a stranger’s tale in a club, and one that begins with the narrator meeting a former acquaintance in a diner. And the final novella takes place entirely in a whole other Gaiman-verse.
Writing for your audience. This is obviously a gigantic talent of Gaiman, and while I was encountering certain genres (such as gothic) here for the first time since I’ve read Poe, I can see how he knows how to write a certain type of story. Despite his massive success over in the States for decades, most of these tales still remain firmly in British territory in terms of style and language. Once I deduced this, it was actually easier to like these stories, as in general the Brits seem to outpace us quite well in many literary ways (yeah, I said it).
Some of my favorites from the collection were: “Bitter Grounds,” “Harlequin Valentine,” “Feeders and Eaters,” “Goliath,” and the American Gods inspired novella Monarch of the Glen. But I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t recommend this entire book to anyone looking to hone their short story writing skills.
While I’ve since learned to overcome my initial hesitation to some of these stories/genres (not to mention Gaiman’s wonderful poetry throughout has singlehandedly made me that much more interested in that type of writing) and did enjoy this book, some of these tales didn’t work for me. I’ll take one example: “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” While this is generally considered one of his best, I found myself unable to believe that even a kid at that age wouldn’t respond to the fantastic dialogue being spun. But could that be that I once again cannot wrestle with the fact that this is a writer deliberately leaving many things in his worlds unresolved? I find myself too inexperienced (and too enamored with this man’s great skill in creating art) to fully argue this point, and will leave it there.
Up next I will travel a few different directions in this vein. I hope to be able to post another example short story (or two) to the blog soon. I am also going to plunge head first into some other masters of the form: Hemingway, Twain, Chopin, Dahl, and a few more. And as always feel free to toss me some recommendations if you have ‘em. Thanks for reading!
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.