Fragile Things : Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders is an Aladdin's cave of treasures, containing more than thirty short stories, poems, vignettes, and literary forms in between. From a novella about a modern-day demigod's travels in Scotland, to a short story about some far-out exchange students, to a set of poetic instructions for traversing fairy tales, Neil Gaiman's creations are above all stories. Even at their most clever and postmodern, his works have the authentic ring of tales passed on at campfires, or shared by strangers waiting for a plane.
"October in the Chair" is a standout tale of childhood sorrow, worthy of its dedication to Ray Bradbury, and is one of several pieces here dealing with young people. Gaiman's pleasure in playing in other writers' sandboxes is clear in the Arthur Conan Doyle/H. P. Lovecraft mashup "A Study in Emerald," as well as in "The Problem of Susan," wherein he gives C. S. Lewis' Susan Pevensie a much-deserved second look. "Bitter Grounds" tells the story of one man's journey to transfiguration in New Orleans. Gaiman's exquisite command of myth is also on display in this collection, from the titular creature of "Sunbird" to the cleverly deployed figures of Northern European myth in "The Monarch of the Glen." Many of these pieces are stories about stories, with all the literary embroidery that entails, from various framing devices (the book's introduction, for one...) to the commentary on the conflict between realism and the Gothic that is "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire."
Many pieces in this volume wend through dark territories - some gruesome, others purely disturbing. While plenty of these "short fictions and wonders" will delight and amaze, Fragile Things is not for the faint-hearted. If you want more after reading it, check out American Gods, a novel featuring the protagonist of this collection's "The Monarch of the Glen," or try one of the collected volumes of Gaiman's landmark Sandman comic series.