Book Review

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman & r & The book Fragile Things begins with a lengthy tribute to Neil Gaiman's writing. Each story and poem in this 350-odd page collection of odds and ends is discussed -- what makes it a good story or poem, what the history is behind its creation, and why it is so particularly Gaimanesque. This glowing introduction, which is longer than many of the book's stories, attempts to shed light on the copious smaller texts written by the famous author of the Sandman comic books. It succeeds primarily because Gaiman himself wrote it.

Regarding his story "Pages From a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky," Gaiman (who should have nothing left to say after that title) blithely name-drops the fact that "This was written for my friend Tori Amos's Scarlet's Walk tour book several years ago, and it made me extremely happy when it was picked up for a "best-of-the-year" anthology." It made me extremely unhappy to discover that the story, like many in the book, was made up of Gaimanesque ideas and moods, not stories. "I'm scared that I'm looking for something that does not exist anymore," the narrator says. "Maybe it never did." Where the old Gaiman would have given us a character enacting that blank futility, his characters in the stories in Fragile Things are wrapped in gothy shorthand -- dark words instead of dark actions.

"Time is fluid here," begins and ends one story that is set in Hell. Hell, however, is never really described. It hides behind a smokescreen of "objects" and spaces that seem "insubstantial." The horror writer H.P. Lovecraft used terms such as these, and he guaranteed himself a future of mockery. Gaiman is perhaps destined for the same fate, especially when he tries, in another story, to build his characters with inner dialogue such as this: "The me who was screaming was so far inside nobody knew he was even there at all." The sentiment it expresses is tragic, perhaps, but it is also written with the self-absorbed skill of a mascara-wearing eighth-grader tackling a poetry assignment. Gaiman calls the story in which it appears "the best of the lot" that he wrote that year. I would hate to read the others.