Neil Gaiman's collection of 31 short stories, "Fragile Things" is "fiercely playful and very grim"

October 13th, 2006

Gaiman's 'Fragile' stories find a good home
By David Colton, USA TODAY

“I like things to be story-shaped,” Neil Gaiman writes in his new anthology of fantastical short stories, “Fragile Things.”

But finding a home for those stories can be tough in a world of literary bloat where page count is everything and the short form has become 44 minutes of “Desperate Housewives” downloaded to your iPod.

Read an excerpt from “Fragile Things”

It's eye-opening that even for a Generation Next superstar like Gaiman, who has conquered graphic novels (“Sandman”), best sellers (“American Gods” and “Anansi Boys”) and children's books (“Coraline”), getting his short work published has required a road map to the obsessively obscure.

Of the 31 stories collected in “Fragile Things,” only one appeared in a traditional publication (the once venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Others popped up in cultish collections such as Gothic!, in an anthology about Sherlock Holmes, at the “Matrix” movie website and in the eZine SpiderWords. Several fragments showed up as liner notes for the CDs of angst chanteuse Tori Amos.

One story never appeared anywhere: Gaiman read it aloud at the punk club CBGB.

This is a long way from “The Saturday Evening Post” and “Collier's” -or even “Thrilling Wonder Stories”- and those looking for a nightly dose of delirium, delivered neat, can thank the gentle Englishman for stubbornly taking his craft wherever it could find an audience.

The tales of “Fragile Things” are nibbles and bits of Gaiman's immensely satisfying inner landscape.

They are fiercely playful and very grim, wisps of whimsy and wonder buoyed by the happy heart of a tragic poet.

Gaiman is an embedded storyteller, shrugging as his doomed puppets suffer torment and loss.

Stories include a novella featuring Shadow from “American Gods” and a final chapter of the Bible. (In Gaiman's version, the snake gets up and leaves the garden.)

He pairs Sherlock Holmes with the lurkers of H.P. Lovecraft and imagines the 12 months of the calendar telling stories around a campfire.

For his characters, even despair ends with hope: “A couple of hours down the highway my cellphone started to ring. I wound down the window and threw the cellphone out. I wondered who would find it, whether they would answer the phone and find themselves gifted with my life.”

These tales, so quickly written and haphazardly published, get closer to Gaiman's life than even his richest work.

If you hear this cellphone ringing, yes, pick it up.

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