Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Third

Well, I am pleased to report that we do not have a repeat last week’s intense befuddlement and annoyance. These stories are certainly not any more cut and dried, because that would be no fun, but at least I feel more internal sense-making and also some intrigue. I like to be intrigued.

Here’s where we stand:

“Going Wodwo”
I liked this the least of this week’s stories, probably because it’s one of those poem things and I’m still working on being a poetry person. It may happen, someday, but it hasn’t happened yet. But anyway, this twenty-line poem describes a person, well, “going wodwo,” or becoming, as the intro says, “a wild man of the woods.” I don’t quite follow the path of the story of the poem, nor does it have the delightful cadence of “The Fairy Reel”, but I will give the poem props for imagery. The first stanza reeled me in — “Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life / Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves / Going in search of food and for a spring / Of sweet water” — and even though I don’t really get it, I really like the phrase “My skin will be / my face now.” Well, if by “like” I mean “am sort of really creeped out by.” Which I do.

“Bitter Grounds”
There is a lot going on in this story. The main plot, I suppose, is that there’s a fellow who up and runs away from his life, stops running temporarily to help out a random guy who subsequently completely disappears, then sort of decides to be this guy for a while. As you do. But there’s so much interesting stuff to think about as this plot moves along — the disappeared guy leaves behind an abandoned, totalled car that our narrator minutes previously had seen as intact if broken down. Disappeared Guy was an academic writing about zombies. Our narrator, while pretending to be DG, makes a new friend who also disappears, and some other new friends who may or may not exist. Like last week’s “Closing Time”, this story has an ending that I don’t quite understand, but this time I felt like the confusing ending at least fit with the story, instead of being completely jarring. Or possibly I am more forgiving when there are potential zombies involved.

“Other People”
As soon as I heard Gaiman say, in his fantastic voice, “‘Other People,'” I said to myself, “Hell is?” And I was SO RIGHT. I love it when that happens. There are no “other people” in this story, but there is Hell, and it is very hellish. There’s a guy, and he wanders into Hell, and he meets a demon who proceeds to beat the crap out of him with 211 different instruments of OW. And then, for good measure, the demon forces the guy to admit to himself every bad thing he’s ever done or said or thought or probably thought about thinking, over and over and over again. And from what I can tell, that is a LOT of bad things. Interestingly, I missed the important point of the story while ears-reading because I apparently had the attention span of a goldfish that day, but as soon as I started eyes-reading it yesterday I decided that this story was fantastic. This week’s favorite!

“Keepsakes and Treasures”
Oh, goodness, I am turning into one of those Parents Television Council people, aren’t I? I was all for the story when I thought it was going to be violence and sloppy eating, but then it took a turn toward the sex intercourse and I was like, “Oh, that’s gross.” I mean, I still read the story, but I really wanted more gruesome killing. Please don’t tell me what that means about me. Ahem. Anyway. Here’s an example of a story where I don’t know any of the background (Gaiman notes in the intro that this story is based on characters from a comic that I’ve never heard of), but the story was just fine anyway. To spoil everything, there’s an unnamed dude who works for this guy called Mr. Alice, and Unnamed Dude spends a lot of time and effort and Alice’s money to procure for Alice the most beautiful boy in the world for the sex intercourse and then after not very long the beautiful boy gets the flu and dies. And so this is really just a very rated-R way of telling a very universal truth, and even though I was like, “ew, cooties,” the way that Gaiman wrote the heck out of this story really sold it to me. There’s the setup of our unnamed narrator being a bit of a serial killer (sidenote: I did a small but very literal spit take at the dissonance between these consecutive sentences: “She was a looker, my mum. I didn’t know which one of the four was my dad, so I killed all of them.” FANTASTIC), and so also really completely disaffected by all the bad and/or weird stuff Alice has him hired to do, and there’s one scene that Gaiman wrote where I read it and I was like, “That’s weird, a little bit,” and then a couple pages later Gaiman writes this other little scene where I’m like, “Ew,” and then I remember that first scene and I’m like, “Okay, now I need to go take a shower, euucchh.” In a good way? I don’t know.

I’m not quite hooked on Fragile Things again, but I am feeling much much better about its chances for being awesome. How about you guys?

10 thoughts on “Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Third

  1. Alison says:

    Yes, yes he can! Even though I was completely squicked out for the last half of the story, I was still like, what's going to happen next? Darn him!

  2. Fence says:

    Heh, your commentary on the last story has me liking it a little more. So yay!

    I like the intrigue of them, but I'm feeling that I need more details for them all! Apart from Other People, I think that worked well as it stands

  3. wereadtoknow says:

    I agree with Fence – I feel like I really could have used a bit more background info before I could really GET a lot of these stories. However, only with “Bitter Grounds” was not having this info enough for me to dislike the story. I LOVED “Going Wodwo”, and wish you luck in your poetry endeavor – maybe another one of Gaiman's poems will strike your fancy. Thanks for the great thoughts!
    – Chelsea

  4. Kristen M. says:

    I'm glad that I'm not alone in thinking “violence? ah. sex? ew.” I guess it was really who the sex was with, though — especially with Smith. I would have rather that he had just been a psychopathic killer.

    I'm glad that someone else liked Other People the best this week! I thought it was really interesting in the introduction when Gaiman said that he really thought that it was someone else's story and was surprised that it wasn't familiar to anyone that he asked about it. I can totally see that.

  5. Alison says:

    Fence — Glad to be of service! 🙂 I've sort of come to grips with the fact that Gaiman is never going to write anything definite into his stories, so I just make wild speculation to fill in the gaps!

    wereadtoknow — Yeah, I do think that Gaiman often thinks the reader is familiar with everything that goes through his head, and so when his mental leaps and mine do not match I feel rather lost. “Going Wodwo” was kind of like that… I was like, oooh, we're going to the woods to live deliberately but now my skin is my face and I am a little concerned. I did quite enjoy “The Fairy Reel” a couple of weeks ago, more for the cadence than the substance but still I liked it.

    Kristen — Oh, thank goodness, I always worry I'm the only one! And, yeah. Let's just leave all the tiny people alone, yes? And with “Other People” I did feel like I had read something similar before, but I don't think it was anything exactly like Gaiman's story — it's a sort of common theme but Gaiman did it quite well.

  6. Carl V. says:

    I grow more fond of the Fragile Things collection every year. I was unfairly comparing it to Smoke and Mirrors at first because I enjoyed that collection so much, but when I listened to this on audio for the first time and each subsequent time I have really enjoyed it.

    I agree that Other People is the best of this set of stories. It isn't a story I ever feel the need to read again. Three times now is more than enough. But I think it is well written and highly effective.

    I have the opposite feeling of you about Bitter Grounds and Closing Time. Where I feel Closing Times' ambiguity works well and leaves me with a sense of creepiness I enjoy, Bitter Grounds is a great story wrapped up in poorly explored magical/mythical elements that don't work well with the story as it is written and leave me wholly unsatisfied. Had the story not involved all the weirdness of the Coffee Girls ending I think I would have found it mysterious, a bit confusing, but ultimately enjoyable.

    I'm sure part of my disgust of Keepsakes and Treasures is that I am getting older and what would have seemed titillating in a juvenile sense when I was in my 20's even seems like gratuitous and unnecessary now. I wouldn't feel that way if this was the only kind of story Gaiman wrote, but as he has demonstrated time and again how skilled he is at creating scary, unsettling characters without resorting to lurid descriptions, I find this return to more shock-value storytelling disappointing.

    I am growing less fond of revenge stories anyway, or at least revenge stories that are all about being as graphic in the language or images as the writer can possibly be. I don't find the idea of that kind of revenge to be healthy, nor do I feel exploring graphic abusive sexual practices entertaining.

    I don't mind that Keepsakes and Treasures was about fleshing out a couple of nasty characters who feature later in Monarch of the Glen and who are in American Gods. It is a fun idea for fans of an author. I just wish Gaiman would move away from writing these lurid stories as his others are so much more enjoyable.

  7. Carl V. says:

    I was reading the comments about background information for the stories and I think that is where a collection of one author's work, like this one, does some disservice to the stories. Poems like “The Fairy Reel” and “Going Wodwo” would work better in the context of the anthologies they were written for, where all of the stories work around a central theme. Even if you know little about the theme the introduction to said collection would educate you as would the exposure to all the other stories.

  8. bookswithoutanypictures says:

    I like your commentary on the last story better than the story itself. Actually, the line that you quoted was the only part of the last story that I enjoyed…

    I also agree with you on the zombies. Most of my friends have plans for what to do when the zombie apocalypse hits. 😀

  9. Alison says:

    Carl — I'm glad the stories age well! I am definitely pondering buying a copy after I have to return this one to the library, currently on the strength of “A Study in Emerald” alone, but I hope on more strength later. 🙂 And I definitely agree on the collection aspect, since I am often running back to the introduction to figure out what a piece is supposed to be about.

    bookswithoutanypictures — Haha, thanks! And really, we all should have zombie apocalypse survival plans. It's a real threat.

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