Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Second


Whaaaaaaaaat is going on here? After a stunning round of stories last week, I am feeling utterly lost this week. I mean, I listened to all of these stories at least twice and read them once, and I still don’t get 75 percent of them. That’s not good!

On the plus side, they’re still read by Neil Gaiman and he can still read me the phone book if he wants.

“The Hidden Chamber”
According to the introduction, this is supposed to be a Bluebeard story. And Bluebeard is a… pirate? Let me go check Wikipedia. That is not a pirate. I am totally thinking of Blackbeard, aren’t I? Things are starting to make so much more sense. Let me read this entry a bit more. … Okay, I’m back, and this is actually pretty okay. Let me change my previous statement to 50 percent. Soooooo this is a sort of poem thing (which doesn’t quite come across in the audio because it’s free verse) about this fella Bluebeard who, as I just learned, is traditionally a guy what likes to kill his wives. But in Gaiman’s version, he’s all, no, no, don’t worry about the ghosts, and I totally don’t have one room in my house you’re not allowed into I don’t know what you’re talking about, and also I’m so misunderstood. He’s reformed, you see, but not in the way you might think, and the poem takes a turn toward the creeptastic at the end. I may need to take out a preemptive restraining order on anyone with a blue beard.

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”
Well, okay, maybe 25 percent, because I think I get this story, I just don’t like it. It opens with the a “chapter” that goes, “Somewhere in the night, someone was writing.” Excellent start! Then it moves over to what is being written, which also doesn’t quite come across in the audio and it took me a second listen to figure out exactly how that worked. And what is being written is a sort of send-up of every horror/ghost/creepy story ever written, with an allusion to The Turn of the Screw and probably many other things that I can’t quite pin down. And it’s predictably bad, and then we go back to the writer, and the writer is all “I am failing at writing this slice-of-life Great American Novel where “American” equals “weird alternate universe where life is creepy all the time and those nice young men etc.” And so at first I am like, “Oh I see how this is a satire of creepy stories,” but then I am like, “Oh I see what you did there and I am not quite in.” Because the author is complaining about how his writing is just a send-up of the “classics” and not a view into daily tedium or whatever, except that Gaiman also writes the Auteur’s actual life as a send-up of the “classics” and so I think he’s doing a great job. And then, when the Auteur (spoiler!) decides to write “fantasy” instead, he’s just sending up a different genre so I don’t think he has improved anything. Okay, maybe 37.5 percent?

“The Flints of Memory Lane”
I get this one! And I kind of like it! But I can’t write as much about it because it’s so short! Anyway, this is just a quick telling of an anecdote from Gaiman’s life where he may or may not have seen a real live ghost faffing about in front of his family’s house. This of course doesn’t do justice to Gaiman’s writing, which conveys the creepiness of seeing a strange woman hanging around under a sodium lamplight, all oddly colored and also silent and also capable of disappearing while your back is turned. I’ve never had quite such a vivid experience, but I’m sure it would scare the pants off of me.

“Closing Time”
I absolutely do not get this story and I need someone to explain it to me. Please. From what I have gathered, this is a story wherein Our Narrator is swapping ghost stories with a group of friends. Check. Then he tells one wherein he meets a group of boys and the boys dare Our Narrator to knock on a playhouse door and then Our Narrator dares them to go into the playhouse, whose door opens and closes by itself, and the boys are never seen again and that’s creepy. And then after the story is told, it turns out that one of the listeners is one of the story’s boys and he’s all, “our dad was kind of a weirdo and my one brother killed himself and I just got out of the loony bin.” And I just… I don’t get it. I don’t understand how this latter bit goes with the narrator’s story, and I don’t understand how all these tangents the narrator goes on have anything to do with anything and… yeah. I got nothing. Help?

I am so not excited for reading the next four stories, because I fear they will be as baffling as most of these, but I have a feeling that as soon as I start the next one I’ll be hooked again. What do you guys think?

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15 thoughts on “Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Second

  1. Kailana says:

    Okay, I thought the man that they met after the scene in the bar was the son of whoever owned the crazy shed? Not one of the boys that went into the shed back when they were children. I just got the impression he was from a crazy family and his father did strange, horrifying things. I think that is what happened, anyway.

  2. Alison says:

    Hmm. That could work. I still don't get how the story goes together, but that could work. I had been hoping that all the boys were ghosts in the first place (with that old magazine and all), but that doesn't quite work with the ending… I am still so baffled by this!

  3. GeraniumCat says:

    My feeling is that the uncertainty over what's going on in Closing Time is about it being meant to be an M.R. James-style story and he does it not just by following the formula about the club setting but by producing a baffling story. I used to read James when I was a kid and at one stage I gave up because I got to the end of every one and thought, “yes, but…why?” For what it's worth, I haven't a clue what happened to the boys when they went into the house, but it seemed to have driven them all mad, and I think maybe the mysterious man is a ghost (but maybe he doesn't know it…?)

  4. Alison says:

    GeraniumCat — A-ha! That was my initial problem with the Bluebeard story, that I had no idea who Bluebeard was and therefore the story meant absolutely nothing to me until I went and looked him up. 🙂 So really, I needed to have known that this M.R. James person is an anti-resolution-ist (or at least known that this story wasn't destined to make perfect sense) and then maybe I wouldn't have taken it so hard!

    On the other hand, I'm still miffed because even reading “A Study in Emerald” there was a lot that I didn't know enough to understand, but the story still made sense without that knowledge — it would just be better with it. I wish that these stories had been similar.

  5. bookswithoutanypictures says:

    I also hadn't heard of Bluebeard before reading the poem. I read it the first time, was confused, and then went back to the intro and looked up Bluebeard on Wikipedia. It made a lot more sense after that, and it was one of my favorite stories this week. I think I might have to start reading Charles Perrault fairy tales more often, because they're all seriously disturbing.

  6. Emily Barton says:

    If I'd listened to it first, before reading it, I don't think I would've figured out that The Chamber was a poem, either (in fact, I know I wouldn't have). And you are not alone: I (even huge M. R. James fan that I am) didn't get “Closing Time” at all, which is when I decided to focus on the fact that it must be more like Robert Aickman than James, because I've never read Aickman. James's stories (and all that I've read of Gaiman's till this story) seem to have more of a dreamy quality to them than this story did. I thought the boys must've been ghosts, since he notes there was never any news about boys disappearing. The age of the man in the pub made no sense, though, if these boys were just a little older than the narrator, and he was one of them. So, I still don't know who the hell the man in the pub was. A ghost, too?

  7. dooliterature says:

    Bahaha, I also that that Bluebeard was a pirate until I Wiki'd it. Glad I'm not the only one! 🙂

    On another note, I really liked Closing Time. I wasn't too sure about the identity of the man at the end. Was he Simon, one of the brothers? If so, then that raises a lot of questions about the rest of the story.
    But I think it's like the story of the green hand that the narrator was telling at the beginning of the story. At the end, someone asks him a question about how they could tell the kids were affected by the green hand if they couldn't talk, and the narrator admitted that maybe it wasn't such a good story after all. We, the readers, ask ourselves who is the old man at the end? And it might not make a lot of sense for him to appear there and say what he does, but if we question it too much, it kind of ruins the story? So, maybe we're just supposed to take it as it is, and be creeped out by it regardless of the man's identity?
    I don't know, haha. I rather liked that Gaiman threw him in there at the end, because it added a hint of realness to the story that was being told. 🙂

  8. Alison says:

    bookswithoutanypictures — Hmm, perhaps I should look into those as well!

    Emily — Yeah, not so poem-y. And yes! That guy ruins my ghost theory! Sigh. Buuuut with Kailana's idea that he's just yet another character, maaaaybe he was an older kid who was already captured or whatnot before those kids showed up? And that's why he's so much older? I feel like if I can just get a grasp of the story, I'll like it so much better, but I fear that there is nothing to grasp!

    dooliterature — Oh, thank goodness. I felt kinda silly when I realized my mistake! And are you saying that I'm thinking too hard about this? 🙂 I… probably am. Oooor maybe this guy shows up specifically to make me think too hard about it and ruin the story for me? I'll have to think it over… But yes, I do agree that the guy makes the story creepier because now it's, like, real and stuff.

  9. Carl V. says:

    I think the ending section of closing time could be interpreted a couple of different ways. I think it was put in their for one thing to give some authenticity to the story that was told. Remember that all of the other stories told were shown to be “urban legends” and this would have felt like maybe another lesser known or newly made up urban legend if the guy didn't step up and make some cryptic statements that chilled the listeners because it went from being just a “story” to a “true story”.

    I always thought the references the guy made were to the three boys and that something horrible happened to them, or they witnessed something horrible, but that they got out. This time reading (listening) to it however I got the impression that this was indeed the son of the man who did some other nasty things either supernaturally monstrous or just the kind of monstrous stuff people do, and that it caused problems with his sons as they grew older even though they were not allowed in the playhouse.

    I'm familiar with the Bluebeard stories simply because I've read a few before and have seen film/television versions of the story. Angela Carter has a really good tables turned version of Bluebeard in her The Bloody Chamber collection which you should check out.

    Sorry to hear you didn't like “Forbidden Brides” but it is a story I suspected more wouldn't like. I love the over the top humor of it. I don't think the point is so much that the author is actually doing a good job of writing what he says he wants to write so much as he thinks he is doing a poor job simply because he isn't doing what he really would love, which is writing fantasy. I think it is great that “fantasy” in an Addams Family world would be the way we live our mundane day to day lives.

  10. dooliterature says:

    Haha, not thinking too hard. I don't think we're supposed to be entirely sure what's going on by the end of the story, we're supposed to be puzzled and unsettled by it.
    After reading what everyone else has had to say about the story, it seems the ending could be interpreted a million different ways, which is the fun part about it, I think. 🙂

  11. Alison says:

    Carl — Yeah, I'll buy that. I think I need to take some time away from “Closing Time” so we can work out our differences and then maybe we can be friends in the future. 🙂 And with “Forbidden Brides” etc. I think I just need to have more familiarity with what Gaiman's spoofing… I picked up The Turn of the Screw and “The Raven”, of course, but otherwise I was lost in a generically over-the-top world.

    dooliterature — Well, if I'm supposed to be puzzled and unsettled, that's a win for the story!

  12. Carl V. says:

    I don't know, its possible a good thing to only be on speaking terms with Closing Time, lol! It is a wicked story when viewed close up.

    I have no doubt at all that I didn't pick up on many of the references at all other than the obvious Poe reference, despite my long time familiarity with Gaiman's work. He is infinitely better read than me! But it is fun to me knowing those things are in there. I have similar feelings about his comic series Sandman, which is littered with mythology and folk tale references as well as those of older comic book heroes. I like that Gaiman can tell a good story even when I don't catch all those but that it also gives me something deeper to get into if I want to do so.

  13. wereadtoknow says:

    Don't worry – just like you and dooliterature, I also thought that Bluebeard was a famous pirate until I did my own bit of googling – perhaps a confusion that should have been cleared up BEFORE I read this story! hehe. But don't worry, you totally weren't the only one! I LOVED “Flints” (I seem to be one of the few this go-round who was really behind the story, as opposed to being kind of 'eh') and thought it was a great example of the kind of horrifying thing that children can experience without necessarily fully understanding.

    I know what you mean about thinking too hard and being confused by the ending to “Closing Time”. It was one of the things I loved most about the story – I also really agree with what Carl said about taking the story from just being a “story” to being a “true story”. I also thought that, perhaps, this was a story in which the most terrifying things aren't ghosts or ghouls or members of the supernatural, but rather the things that human beings are capable of doing to each other. That's how interpreted the old man's ramblings as they left the Club. Also – I want me a Stateside Diogenese Club! Thanks for such great thoughts this week, and I can't wait to see what you have to say next week!

    — Chelsea

  14. Cari says:

    You know… I don't remember any of these stories. And after reading your review of the first four, I had very vivid memories of those. Hmmmm. Maybe I didn't like these, or I skipped some discs by mistake, or I'm just overtired right now. Will have to revisit when I'm not exhausted.

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