Two Favorites in One Crunch Treat!
Smoke and Mirrors – Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman (1998)
I love short stories, and over the last several years I have developed a deep appreciation of Neil Gaiman. So this was a wonderful surprise when I found it on the library shelf. In today’s literary world, it’s the novel that makes your fame and fortune, but I love the craftsmanship that a well-written short story displays.
And Gaiman doesn’t disappoint.
For me, his writing slides nicely in with both Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. The three of them have a deft touch in finding the subtle horror in everyday people and situations. This isn’t the grand opera horror of H. P. Lovecraft or the tightly enclosed madness of Harlan Ellison. This is the creeping evil that slides through our days unseen, only to surface with a gentle ripple in our dreams. A gentle ripple that portends terrible, terrible things.
Scrolling back through, I realize how many of these stories I loved. My tendency is to pause my reading after finishing a great passage or story. I want to take a moment to roll the flavor of the writing around on my literary tongue, searching out the subtle flavors. So, reading this book took a while. “The Troll Bridge” is a stunning retelling of the “Billy Goat Gruff” story and other troll stories. It brings a tangy sadness to the troll(s). “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” brings the flavor of Bradbury’s “A Graveyard for Lunatics” (a personal favorite) with its taste of Old Hollywood and those who still remember. “Nicholas Was…” is less than a single page long but grabs its central concept by the throat and tears apart someone you’ve known all your life. No spoiler from me. “Murder Mysteries” takes homicide to the sphere of the angels, “Chivalry” is magic and mystery, Arthurian quest and little old ladies. I could go on and on.
I will give special notice to one story that was a standout even among this field of stars. “The Sweeper of Dreams” gives a face to the process of forgetting our dreams once we awaken. Where is the terror in forgetting our dreams? This line whispered terror in my ear, and I cannot forget it – “For there are people he no longer visits, the sweeper of dreams, with his hand-rolled cigarettes and his dragon tattoo.” It’s a fabulous line in a master storyteller’s tale.
Most of the poetry worked less well for me. I struggle with poetry in general, and long poems especially so. But even here, Gaiman gently took me where he wanted me to go, willing or no. “The White Road” stood out. A re-telling of the ancient fable of “The Robber Bridegroom”, also known as “Mr. Fox.” Every time I thought I’d lost interest, he hooked me again.
Gaiman has joined King and Bradbury as a writing role model. I love their storytelling and writing. I have no illusions that I’ll ever join their ranks, but I’d be delighted to be told my writing had a Bradbury/King/Gaiman feel to it.
Recommendation – Read This Book
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