Neil Gaiman’s short stories
This review should start with the bald fact that Neil Gaiman may just be the most naturally creative person on the planet. He writes good stories. They’re totally unique, even when he’s retelling something, and they’re all frustratingly inventive.
But, even though his apparently bottomless well of creativity is plenty impressive, that isn’t actually my favorite part of reading Gaiman’s short story collections. Instead, I really enjoyed that oft-skipped part of books: the author’s preface. Because, however interesting the stories themselves are, it’s marvelous to be given the inside story of where they came from, what their original context was, and, in some cases, how pleased the author is (or isn’t) with the outcome. And unsurprisingly, Gaiman is just as good at explanatory notes as he is at stories.
I read Fragile Things first and then Smoke and Mirrors, but I couldn’t say which I liked better. (They both have excellent explanatory notes.) Although they are ostensibly grouped into stories and poems that confirm their titular themes, I still found the overall character of both very similar. Apparently even when you’re as prolific and variable as Gaiman, you still have a cohesive voice that binds together your work. This voice is really only apparent when taking these collections as wholes, though. While you’re reading the stories, each one seems wholly apart from the ones before and after. It’s quite the trick.
All the same, each collection has something to recommend it:
Fragile Things includes fewer homages to H.P. Lovecraft (an omission I appreciated as someone who has yet to discover what, exactly, is inticing in reading about cthulu) and my favorite short story of all time (“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire” is hysterical, creepy, and just the right amount of mocking), so it certainly edges ahead a little bit.
But Smoke and Mirrors caps itself with the most haunting version of the Snow White tale you’ll ever read: “Snow, Glass, Apples.” Gaiman notes that, once you’ve read it, you’ll never be able to look at Snow White the same way again and I’d wager he’s correct. It also features “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale,” which edges carefully from amusing absurdity into bleak reality, and the delightfully English “Chivalry.”
Both collections are a good read, particularly if you’re in the mood for just a taste of Gaiman. (Although, a warning: I went into both just wanting a taste and ending up reading both cover-to-cover including the introductions, so prepare to be sucked in.) While the stories themselves are variable in quality throughout the books, both collections provide numerous short stories that are exemplary of the form. And, as a reader who is trying to build up her short story familiarity, that plus a dash of classic Gaiman imaginativeness proved just the ticket.
So while I’m not sure “imaginativeness” is actually a word, I’m still quite certain it applies to Gaiman’s stories. And I think he would approve of the word-smithing.