I never considered myself a short story reader in the past, but I’ve been warming up to the idea in this new year. I started on the George R.R. Martin edited anthology, Songs of Love and Death, which features a short story by Neil Gaiman called “The Thing About Cassandra.” In the story, a man makes up a girlfriend in high school, but she returns when he’s an adult. But the weird thing is that she’s the one who made him up and she’s been real the whole time. The perspective is fantastic. When I realized that the story was in his new short story collection, Trigger Warning, I knew I would not be disappointed.
Neil Gaiman is definitely one of my favorite fantasy writers. I count Neverwhere, American Gods, and Ocean at the End of the Lane to be among my favorite books. He writes how I would prefer to see the world, monsters are always hidden right around the corner, civilizations live under the rug, or a slightly askew painting that signals the end of the universe. It was delightful to read this short story collection brought together by the theme of uneasiness. Trigger Warning, as Gaiman explains in the introduction, is a new internet phenomenon where people put a tag on their posts to prevent others from becoming triggered by the subject matter. I’ve seen it a lot on Tumblr. Though, in this collection, there are not any serious triggers that negate the warning.
The 22 pieces in this collection do match his writing style and for that I am grateful. There are even some poems, like “Making a Chair,” “My Last Landlady,” “Witch Work,” and “In Relig Odhrain.” The poems invoke a sense of being off-balance.
Noteworthy stories include: “Nothing O’Clock,” an 11th Doctor story featuring Amy Pond. They arrive in Amy’s time and everyone/thing has died out, so they go back in time to 1984 and figure out that the Kin, a former prisoner of the Time Lords has escaped and the Kin make a trap for the last Time Lord, but it doesn’t work for long. The Kin are especially uneasy because they wear a mask to hide their true form, which should not be seen by humans. For some reason, I pictured the rabbit masked Kin to look like the Donnie Darko rabbit.
There’s also a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Case of Death and Honey,” in which Sherlock “retires” and becomes a bee keeper to do research on a case about poison. He ends up living in China for a year with a local bee keeper.
My favorite story was “Orange (Third Subject’s Responses to Investigators Written Questionnaire.) Eyes Only.” If looking at this from a structure standpoint only, it’s brilliant storytelling. The whole premise is that a girl is answering questions about the events of her sister turning into an orange glowing otherworldly creature, but we never know the questions, only the answers. This makes the story unfold in unexpected ways. Who is giving the interview? where is the girl’s family? will her sister ever return? We may never know.
Another favorite was The Sleeper and the Spindle, mostly because I like the story behind it. Did you know that Gaiman released this in a single book form for one day in California? It happened and that is awesome. It is a fresh take on mashed-fairy tale stories of Snow White, now the queen of her own kingdom, and Sleeping Beauty, who’s neighboring country is suffering a sleeping plague. Snow White (though her name is never mentioned specifically, it’s pretty easy to deduce) and some of her dwarf friends go to the neighboring kingdom to investigate the plague because they are worried it could spread to Snow’s kingdom. Snow is also going to avoid getting married. When they reach the other kingdom, everyone is sleeping, but they sense the new comers and sleep walk toward them (like zombies). When Snow and her friends arrive at the castle, it’s covered in rose bushes and vines so they burn it down. When they get to the castle, the find Sleeping Beauty, but she’s not sleeping, she’s forced to care for the witch who is asleep, and by now Beauty is an old woman. And the ending is pretty interesting too.
I also really loved “Calendar Tales,” where each month brings a different story within the whole of the calendar. Again, great structure and micro-storytelling. January, May, July-October, and December are particularly noteworthy. “A Lunar Labyrinth” is also fantastic, it reminded me of American Gods because the narrator enjoys going to roadside attractions. This one is peculiar because the labyrinth will solve any problems/ wishes/ answers if the person is able to complete it. “Adventure Story” is also a favorite in ways I was describing earlier about everything being just a bit off, hidden around the corner type of ways. The main story is about a guy who comes home to pick up some of his father’s things after he passes away. He wants to take a statue, but his mother won’t let him because it makes him the ruler of an Aztec civilization. The mother retells the adventure story of the father finding the statue and the son is just like, “what!?” It’s awesome. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” is the most scary of all the stories (unless you count “Feminine Endings” about a stalker) because a young man and his girlfriend’s younger brother are walking through a dark house telling the story of monster’s called Click-Clack’s who slurp humans like a milkshake, leaving their bones and skin in Rattlebags. *shiver*
There were so many other worthwhile stories that I don’t have time to go into, but let’s just say that it was well worth the read! Highly recommend! Need more Gaiman in my life! Next I need to read Good Omens!
In the interest of full-disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss, but I probably could have gotten a copy from the publisher because I work for them. 😉