Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Review: "Fragile Things" by Neil Gaiman

It's no surprise that a guy who made his name in the comics world would excel in the short form, and for the most part, his latest short story collection, "Fragile Things" ($26.95, William Morrow), will not disappoint.

Through the course of the stories, Gaiman weaves fairy tale, myth, legend and tributes to writers he idolizes into stories that range from charming to strange to creepy.

The best story here is a tip of the hat to Ray Bradbury, "October in the Chair," which features personifications of the seasons of the month swapping stories at a gathering. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that the ending of the story is incredibly reminiscent of Bradbury and his stories that made readers think and use their imaginations. It wouldn't have been out of place in Bradbury's "The October Country."

Other influences come through on "A Study in Emerald," which reads like a blend of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and the observant reader will note references to other writers and works sprinkled liberally throughout the book.

The best stories in "Fragile Things," as with much of Gaiman's work, are those that lean more toward the fantastic and surreal. The story in "October in the Chair," for example is much more disturbing than the stab he takes at a more grisly brand of horror in "Feeders and Eaters."

Of great interest to fans will be the return of Shadow from "American Gods" in the novella "The Monarch of the Glens," which offers a different take on "Beowulf" and also hints that perhaps there's more in store for Shadow in the future.

Gaiman also sprinkles bits of poetry here and there throughout the book, which for the most part, you can skip. A poet he's not, but there is a certain poetry in his stories when they're at their best. Much like his idol Bradbury, Gaiman is at his best when he's at his strangest. The tales that make you think, the stories that open themselves to your own interpretation are the ones you'll remember.

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