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2015 Stories 84 - 88

Continuing to catch up on the story reviews. The following are all from Neil Gaiman’s latest collection, Trigger Warning.

84. DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA Another classic trope: young boy runs away to sail the open seas. Another great twist, as the reader is a part of the story. Now, second person narration usually bothers me, but in this case it’s a fairly limited use of such: it gets us under an awning in a rainstorm with a woman who wanders the docks, who tells us the boy’s tragic story. Nicely staged, and just the right length.

85. “THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS…” I’ve also read this story as an illustrated stand-alone book. The narrator is a member of the wee folk, and he carries a secret with him along with a mission and a tragedy. These three components deftly come together as the narrator and his somewhat reluctant guide travel to the island that is home to the legendary black mountains, each man in search of something they’re not sure they’ll find. This is probably the closest to a standard “thriller/caper” story Gaiman has in this collection, even with the fantasy elements so prevalent.

86. MY LAST LANDLADY A poem in which a new boarder describes the changes in his relationship with his former landlady. It has the expected Gaiman word-play and certainly the same pace as I think Gaiman would have used to tell this story in prose, but the poem form makes it feel even more of a period piece, and thus of the period in which it is set.

87. ADVENTURE STORY When Gaiman edited the Stories anthology, he said his goal was to concentrate on stories that make you ask “what happened next?” He succeeds with this one, where the narrator’s discovery of a small ancient statue among his late father’s belongings could be the start of a grand pulp adventure. More importantly, it’s a story about personal experience and world-views: Gaiman says, through one of the characters, that adventure is what you make it, and that you don’t have to cross the world or encounter a hidden colony of pterodactyls in order to feel like you’ve experienced life. The story also, I think, makes the point that no one person’s definition of “adventure” is any better or worse than anyone else’s: one person’s parking lot encounter is another person’s discovery of an ancient Aztec civilization. (That said, I kind of wish Gaiman would actually write the pulp adventure story of the narrator’s father’s acquisition of the statue. Just because I love that kind of story and I think Gaiman would do it justice.) This is one of my favorites in the collection.

88. ORANGE   Many authors love to experiment with story form and format, to give the reader a different way of experiencing a story. Some experiments are successful, some not so. Gaiman presents this story in the form of answers to a highly-detailed questionnaire. Through the narrator’s written answers to questions we don’t get to see, we’re privy to a family’s life being turned upside down by a seemingly every-day object that turns out to be a vessel for something much older. The lack of the questions to which the narrator is responding heightens the sense of mystery about what’s going on and allows Gaiman to spool the story out in a wonderfully snarky typical teenage voice.


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