Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fourth


What an odd week of stories. We’ve got two ostensibly true stories, one story broken up into several even smaller stories, and another one of those stories that seems to require a little bit of homework to understand. Also, the return of the sodium yellow light, which really needs to be retired. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure I liked all of the stories this week, though I have yet to match my love for the first week’s. A girl can dream…

“Good Boys Deserve Favors”
I can totally get behind this story, about Gaiman as a double-bass-playing tiny person who didn’t like to practice. I never liked to practice my instrument as a kid, either, although I never had the opportunity to sneak a book into my “practice sessions” and I feel a little gypped. (I probably shouldn’t say that.) The climax of this story is interesting — the young Gaiman finds himself chosen to play his double bass in front of a potential school donor, and he just makes something up and manages to please most of the listeners, though it’s not clear just how good this made-up piece is. The fact that his headmaster described it as “modern, yet classical,” leads me to believe that it was probably very very weird, and that possibly the story is really about how Potential School Donors are not terribly discerning in their music.

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch”
Okay, this is another ostensibly true story, though in this one I think that “ostensibly” is the key word here. Ostensibly. Because what we have is the story of Ostensible Neil Gaiman getting dragged to the circus with some Ostensible Friends and an Ostensibly Crazy Person called Miss Finch, and then ending up (beginning up? Gaiman starts the story with the ending) without Miss Finch but with some delicious sushi. The circus is no regular circus, and no Night Circus either, but some odd conglomeration of things like knife-throwers and trick motorcyclists and fake hand-losers who take their guillotined fake hands and chase people around with them to the Benny Hill theme, apparently. But the real story part of the story is that geobiologist Miss Finch, who has all night been bitching about the circus and also the dangers of sushi, gets picked to have her wishes come true and suddenly saber-toothed tigers exist and the circus disappears. And even in the story, it’s not clear exactly why this happens… did Miss Finch really get her wishes? Was she a well-done audience plant? Was the whole circus some sort of elaborate joke on the Ostensibles? At first listen, I was a bit annoyed with the story for not giving me any useful exposition, but after reading it again I’m content to come up with elaborate exposition of my own and call it canon.

“Strange Little Girls”
This story did not come across at all in audio, so I just skipped it and read through it later. The reason it fails in audio is that all of the pieces in it are just paragraphs, and you don’t get the print formatting that tells you, hey, these are all separate little stories and not actually about the same person. So it’s a bunch of little stories about different people, and actually they’re less “stories” than “snapshots” or whatever the print equivalent is. So, difficult to describe. I’ll just stick with saying that my favorites are “Love” (in which a woman totally gets a man in trouble with his wife) and “Heart of Gold” (whose structure just amuses me).

“Harlequin Valentine”
I liked this story a lot, even though I know nothing about harlequins outside of Harley Quinn and it is obvious that I am missing a lot of the subtler points. But with my second small-but-literal spit take of the book, at the point when I realized that was no paper heart pinned to Missy’s door, I couldn’t say no to the rest of the story. I really liked the Harlequin character, who is completely ridiculous and well-rendered by Gaiman on audio, and who gives his heart to a human called Missy for funsies, apparently, and then follows her around to see what she’ll do with it. Well, once Harlequin makes the mistake of telling her whose heart it is, Missy becomes my favorite character as she takes the heart and eats it with ketchup and hash browns so that she can become Harlequin herself, and leaves the erstwhile Harlequin to the human life. Ketchup and hash browns, people. I love it. And now I must go look up this commedia dell’arte stuff, because it is apparently delightful.

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12 thoughts on “Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fourth

  1. Emily Barton says:

    I knew nothing about Harlequin, either, until I read the story and am sure I missed as many references as you did. Still, I loved it. And, I agree “Strange Little Girls” is … well … very strange, if you listen to it and don't read it.

  2. wereadtoknow says:

    Loved what you had to say this week! I REALLY didn't get much out of “Miss Finch”, but reading what everyone else has to say about it is making me think that maybe I need to do a re-read: I think I missed something the first time.

    I also know what you mean about not quite getting all of “Harlequin Valentine”, and even with some wikipedia-ing, I am still at a bit of a loss. But I loved the role reversal, and thoughts that the story was just so sad! It made me fall that much more in love with Gaiman.

    I liked “Strange Little Girls”, although that may have something to do with being a HUGE Tori Amos fan. I also think that “Good Boys” works really well with “Flints of Memory Lane”, which makes sense as they're paired together!

    Can't wait to see what you have to say about next week's installment!
    – Chelsea

  3. Alison says:

    Emily — Glad I'm not the only one!

    wereadtoknow — There's a lot of weirdness to “Miss Finch”. It would take me a LOT of readings to really figure it out, I think!

  4. Carl V. says:

    After many readings of Miss Finch over the years, always liking it and liking it more with each reading, I am convinced that Miss Finch really isn't the shrew she appears to be to her companions that night and like the narrator I warm to her as soon as we see that she does actually have passions that cause her to come alive.

    I don't find the circus all that strange of an idea. After years of watching things like Monty Python and the interactive movie showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show and the advent over the years of the wild and varied haunted house experiences in big cities it doesn't seem all that odd. I like to think that Miss Finch actually did get her secret wish, the story takes a more sinisterly hopeful turn with that idea in mind.

    GBDF is a favorite. I like that we see everything from the viewpoint of a young kid, so that even though we probably wouldn't see things from the same perspective as an adult, he himself experienced a moment of unexpected musical triumph and I cannot help but cheer for the kid.

    I agree with you about Strange Little Girls on the audio, yet oddly enough the Tarot story we read later, which is also fragments, was one I didn't take to when I read it the first time but when I listened to it on audio later on it came alive for me.

    Harlequin Valentine is a wickedly delightful story. I love the way Missy turns the tables on him and yet I also like that it doesn't end up being a story about cruelty, as it could be, but actually one in which both characters seem to have the potential to be happier in their new roles.

  5. bookswithoutanypictures says:

    @Carl In HV, I like to think that this won't be the only time that Missy and the Harlequin will switch roles.

    See, I read the whole eating the heart scene while trying to eat lunch, which didn't work out as well as I would have hoped. I did think the story was neat though.

  6. Carl V. says:

    I get the impression from the story that Missy certainly isn't the first to take on the Harlequin role. I could see two scenarios: either enough cleverness is left in Harlequin that he tricks her back or, the one that feels more likely, the actual role of Harlequin gets passed on by hook or by crook down through the ages and each time its a new person.

  7. Alison says:

    Carl — That's fair; I'm not really a circus person (or a cult movie person), so I was like… okay. And it's certainly more fun if Miss Finch gets her wishes, but I do like that it could go any way.

    bookswithoutanypictures — Ew. I was just sitting at work, but I was still thinking it was pretty gross! It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of ketchup, either…

  8. GeraniumCat says:

    I like Miss Finch too – as a character, I mean, I think she just didn't much want to be there and didn't have much of a sense of humour (or maybe, secretly, a lot of one, and she was amusing herself by lecturing them). The Ostensibles are real, by the way, and very well-known in the UK – well, Jonathan is, much more recognisable than Gaiman to most people, and for me that was some of the fun of the story, because I keep imagining them all trying to be polite to this odd woman and then not being sure whether they ought to try to find out what's happened to her.

    My take on Harlequin, which is a very old story, is that it goes on being passed down, there's got to be a Harlequin and a Columbine and so on. I loved both these stories.

  9. Alison says:

    GeraniumCat — Interesting to know that the Ostensibles are real… I had figured they were, with the way that Gaiman talked about their various jobs and all, but nice to have verification. 🙂

  10. Cari says:

    I didn't mind listening to Strange Little Girls because I too am a big TA fan. I thought I remembered listening to the Scarlet's Walk story too – was that on there?

  11. Alison says:

    Cari — I know nothing about Tori Amos, so… yeah. 🙂 And, after perusing the introduction, I can tell you there's a story based on Scarlet's Walk called “Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky” which I will be reading in about two weeks. Will it be exciting?

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