Neil Gaiman is easily one of the most engaging, witty, and fascinating authors I have ever read, bearing that bias in mind, I finished his first collection of short stories and am ready to (spoiler alert) rave about it. In Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of “short fictions and illusions,” Gaiman takes us from science fiction, to horror stories, and back again, yet not without a side-trip to a couple gruesome fairy tales that even the Grimm brothers would endorse.
Asked to pick a favorite, I’d be unable to. Maybe the title would go to the dystopian, too-close-to-home Virus; or Snow, Glass, Apples, which tells the story of demonic, non-disney Snow White from the perspective of the Evil Queen (you know, kind of like what Gregory Maguire does, only actually inspired and without delving into the thoughts and feelings of characters it pains to have two shits about); or the bone-chilling tale of The White Road; or the prose poetics of a sea-burdened sailor in The Sea Change. It would be hard to say, it would perhaps depend on my mood. I inhaled the stories, I re-examined a few in succession, wanting to make sure that I was envisioning the right thing and to guarantee that I was living the realistic sensorial cues, or even to double check that I was being properly grossed out by open sores, pustules and red, wormy nightmares.
When I read something I really dig, I want to soak it up, even through parts that make me cringe. Isn’t that a mark of a good author? One that transports you from your couch, an uncomfortable bus seat, a bad day, a waiting room, what have you, and into a different universe that is so vivid that you want to live through each twist and turn? I’d like to think so, and Gaiman does that to me every time. This is the fourth Gaiman book I’ve read (Coraline, American Gods, Stardust, Smoke and Mirrors—in that order), and I’ve been left wanting more. The main criticisms I’ve seen of this collection is that it contains half-thought ideas, or vignettes that seem like they’d be better suited as an expanded story. I disagree and don’t necessarily think that it’s a negative. I actually like that they seem like short stories and not abridged novels, I like that there seems to be corners that aren’t fleshed out completely.
It makes me feel like there is more energy behind the words and makes me wonder why he ends certain stories the way he does. It also makes me feel like I could create my own conclusion. When the stories were complete, my head swirled with ideas of “wait, that happened…right?” and “what would happen if…?” and I like when that happens. They aren’t missing details by way of plot holes, they’re missing details that are ready and perfect to fill with your own details. It made it customizable and more fantastic (hardly a downside).
I’ll definitely be picking up Fragile Things as soon as possible.