Sunday, October 02, 2011

R.I.P. Group Read: Fragile Things 4

Good Boys Deserve Favors

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch

Strange Little Girls

Harlequin Valentine

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 1006.

(Before I begin, I must say that you-all are a polite bunch for not pointing out to me that, in my previous Fragile Things post, I'd magically turned Kingsley Amis into a Pennsylvania Dutchman by adding an "h" to the end of his last name.)

Ahh, this week, for the R.I.P. group read of Fragile Things, we returned to Neil Gaiman stories that I can honestly say I loved, nothing in this week's readings repulsing or disgusting me. Instead of searching for redeeming qualities in stories that unsettled me, I could just sink into my chair and enjoy the brilliance of Gaiman's imagination.

Good Boys Deserve Favors
Okay, so now I know why this one was paired with The Flints of Memory Lane in Gaiman's Introduction. Like that one, it appears to be based on something that happened to Gaiman when he was a kid. Apparently, he chose to play the double bass in school. Read this story if you want to discover what a brilliant writer Gaiman is without having to worry about being spooked or disturbed. He does a masterful job of weaving the ways in which a love affair might manifest itself in a boy before he's old enough to have a love affair with a girl (or a boy, if that's the way he happens to be made). It's not the sort of thing one would expect from a story about a boy learning to play a musical instrument, which is exactly what makes it so magical and endearing. Nonetheless, there it is, a pre-adolescent love story, in its full glory: the fact that his teacher refers to the instrument as "she;" his not realizing, at first, how attached he is to his Object of Affection; his OoA helping him reach new heights in a dizzying performance; and his losing his OoA through his own clumsiness, never to find another who could replace her. I loved it; I could gush about it forever, but then it might be overwhelmed by my clumsy affection and dump me, so I'll stop here and try to keep it guessing, for a little while longer, how I feel about it.

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch
I love any story that uses a circus, a carnival, or an amusement park as a setting for the weird, fantastic, and the supernatural. Such human forms of entertainment are, to me, the most likely places for dark magic to hide and manifest itself. I love the humor in this story. I laughed out loud when we encountered the man dressed as a giant fish riding his bicycle. The idea of the hunchback and the topless nun racing to rescue him is priceless, punctuated by the girl asking if that was meant to happen. Even more than the humor, though, I like the mystery that surrounds Gaiman's very dark circus (hidden, of course, underground). Miss Finch is a flawless character, exactly what she should be, in every way. Oh, and wouldn't that stocky woman be the one you'd want to scare to death? It's all so perfect.

Strange Little Girls
I suppose I liked this one so much because I'm a huge fan of characterization. This little collection of character sketches proves that, in the right hands, merely describing key elements of a character can tell an extremely powerful story. I also loved the way it ended, basically telling us to change our points of view, see things from different angles.

Harlequin Valentine
Okay, so I should be disturbed by a "human" heart being nailed to someone's door, but I'm not. I should also be disturbed by what ultimately happens to that heart (yes, I'm still attempting to avoid spoilers, although I know I haven't always done a very good job in writing my posts for this group read). I'm not, though, and I absolutely loved this story about love and trickery and broken hearts and power in relationships. Again, we had a great ending: a little ray of hope to prove what a romantic Gaiman actually is.

I'm realizing, as I write this, that one of the key factors in this week's collection is that all the stories provided learning opportunities for me as a writer. The first one is all about including the unexpected, using what might be nothing more than a mere fact (e.g. for a time, as a boy, I played the double bass) and giving it meaning. The second one was all about setting, although I also learned from it ways that details can be omitted, encouraging the brain to come up with its own details. The third one was a study in characterization. The last one demonstrates the way hope can keep romance alive in a story. Were I teaching a creative writing class, I think I'd have my students read these four stories.


Anonymous said...

"He does a masterful job of weaving the ways in which a love affair might manifest itself in a boy before he's old enough to have a love affair with a girl (or a boy, if that's the way he happens to be made)." - This sentence made me crack up, and made my whole day a little better!

First of all, I LOVE the way you stepped back to look at the bigger picture in terms of what these stories 'taught' you. That's a great skill to have, and it's so awesome to see in practice!

I totally agree with what you had to say about the magic of the writing in "Good Boys", and love seeing how it works with "Flints" as a kind of "buddy story". I also think you were spot on the reason I loved "Strange Little Girls" so much (and, really, the thing I love a whole bunch about most 'vignette' stories!).

I'm super grateful to all you readers this week, because I didn't get anything out of "Miss Finch", and you guys are really helping me to see some of what I missed before. It's one of the greatest things about read-a-longs, getting something out of what you might not have before.

Can't wait to see what you have to say about next week's round up!
- Chelsea

Kailana said...

I am starting to think I am the only one that wasn't a huge fan of Strange Little Girls... Oh, well! I really enjoyed the other three stories.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I friggin' hate Blogger, btw. Completely ate my comment for no reason whatsoever.

Love that you enjoyed GBDF. I can almost hear the music as the young man opens himself up to the possibility of something incredible happening and just throws himself into his performance. I can almost feel his ecstasy as well. It is all the more amazing because it could be a story with autobiographical elements or it could be a piece of fiction from the first to the last word.

Miss Finch is such a great interpretation of Frank Frazetta's painting. It is the kind of story that I don't think I could ever imagine on my own, and yet once you read it you can't imagine it being any other way. Of course that is what would happen to Miss Finch!

I wish Strange Little Girls did more for me (I am completely indifferent to it). Later on we'll read the Vampire Tarot story which is the same type of "story" and yet I love that one. Odd. I should try this CD of Tori's again and maybe my opinion of both would improve.

Glad you enjoyed Harlequin Valentine. I am glad that for all the darker things that happen that it really does turn out to be a happy little story, after a fashion.

Emily Barton said...

Chelsea, glad to have made your day with that line! I never thought of my reading stories for what they might teach me as a writer as a skill (and I'm afraid. like the narrater in GBDF, it's one I don't always practice), but I like the idea of it as a skill that can be honed, so thanks for making me see that. I, too, love the way this readalong his helping me see things I otherwise wouldn't.

Kailana, well, if it's any comfort, Strange Little Girls, even though I liked it, was my leas favorite of what we read this week. And, see Carl's comment: he wasn't much of a fan at all of that one.

Carl, I often hate blogger myself (when I'm not loving how it's connected me to others over the years). It seems not to have eaten your comment, but rather to have hidden it under its tongue and then spit it out again. It's appeared twice, so I'm going to delete the second one. Yes, that's exactly what would happen to Miss Finch! From your comments, I'm looking forward to reading the Vampire Tarot story.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Glad to know, although I think that was actually the third one! LOL. I learned after the second time to copy it before hitting the submit button.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this week's selections (with the exception of Strange Little Girls). Loved your analysis of Good Boys, and I think it's interesting how much I liked Good Boys even though I didn't care for Flints.

I made the mistake of reading Miss Finch while eating... it is not for the weak of stomach, although I enjoyed the story.

Jodie Robson said...

I wasn't too upset by the human heart (though I like the way it plays with the notion that eating people is wrong) but I could have done without my discovering that my husband had decided to cook liver twice in a week - once okay, but twice?! In the story we are obviously in comic book mode. I love that bit in Miss Finch where he says he wonders if the circus people had been watching too much Mad Max, I can remember the same thought just before I fell in love with circuses with motorbikes and bondage themes. Circuses ought to be sleazy and Gaiman gets it so perfectly.

Emily Barton said...

BWAT, no, I imagine eating while reading "Miss Finch" wouldn't be a good idea. Good Boys is a little more of a "story" than Flints, isn't it? So I can see why someone might like it and not like Flints, even though I loved both.

GC, liver twice in one week when you've just read Harlequin Romance? LOL! I loved that same part in Miss Finch: a wonderful nod both to Mad Max and to Gaiman's own comic book connections. Circuses definitely ought to be sleazy, as should carnivals.