Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Three

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I can’t believe we’re already to the third week of the read-a-long! Even though it’s only a once a week post, I feel like the book is just flying by! This week’s stories are “Going Wodwo”, “Bitter Grounds”, “Other People”, and “Keepsakes and Treasures”. All in all, while this wasn’t my favorite week, I had more hits than misses.

“Going Wodwo”

I loved thus piece of poetry! DEFINITELY more than “The Hidden Chamber” and slightly more than “The Fairy Reel”. First and foremost, the poem totally appeals to my love for nature, and the fact that I love sensuous language and imagery in a piece of poetry. I mean, I was literally lingering in images like “I’ll tell the wind my name, and no one else./True madness takes us or leaves us in the wood/half-way through all our lives”. The introduction says that Neil wrote this one for a collection on The Green Man, and while I don’t actually know about that character specifically, Gaiman made magic for me in this poem!

I also think that the poem made some important claims about the importance of nature versus civilization. The fact that, discarding everything from his civilized life (“Shedding my shirt, my book, me coat, my life”) he is able to find the place where he belongs (“I’ll find a tree as wide as ten fat men/Clear water rilling over it’s grey roots/Berries I’ll find, and crabapples and nuts,/And call it home.”) is an incredibly important and an incredibly message to me. Not only do I think that God gave us all the answers and hope we need in the world around us, but I believe it’s up to us to protect and be stewards of our planet. Needless to say, Gaiman got major points from me for this one!! 😀

“Bitter Grounds”

For as much as I was totally enamored with “Going Wodwo”, I was equally as disappointed with “Bitter Grounds”. This, I think, was for multiple reasons. One, I don’t think I understand it. I read it three times and still. I mean, I understand the progression if the plot, but I just don’t get it. Zombies, right? Like, that’s the whole thing with all of it in the end – he runs off and joins the land of the zombies? Or he was a zombie the whole time? See? No idea. The second reason most likely largely pertains to the fact that I was just not jiving with any of the characters. And I mean, like, any of them. It makes it much harder to invest in understanding the story when you don’t care to spend any more time with your protagonist.

That being said, I do think that there were the occasional scary moments throughout the story. When the fake Jackson Anderton returns to the site of the tow truck and finds the car door open, the back window open, and no one in sight, I will admit that I got a little freaked out. And hearing the story of the little zombie girls was a bit…off. But, do those two moments balance out the difficulty of the rest of the story? No way. This one was definitely a thumbs-down for me.

“Other People”

OH. MY. GOODNESS. This story packed so much punch in to it’s three and a half pages was ridiculous. It sucked me in from it’s first line: “‘Time is fluid here,’ said the demon.” I mean, dang y’all. This story was intense. Gaiman’s progression from physical to mental torture, followed by the ultimate transformation into the demon himself is an example of prime narrative structure. I can’t express enough how much I love the concept behind this story, too.

Anyone who has been following my R.I.P. reviews knows that I think that the scariest thugs in the world aren’t supernatural. They’re the things human beings can do to one another. I feel like Gaiman hits this nail so firmly on the head, it hurts:

“Everything he had ever done that had been better left undone. Every lie he had ever told – told to himself, or told to others. Every little hurt, and all the great hurts. Each one was pulled out of him, detail by detail, inch by inch. The demon stripped away the cover of forgetfulness, stripped everything down to truth, and it hurt more than anything.”

All I know is that that sounds like a pretty apt description of hell to me. Another win for Gaiman!

“Keepsakes and Treasures”

I’m not sure how many of those in the read-a-long are going to like this story. But I liked it. I won’t say I love it, because it’s hard to love something so…graphic and, ultimately, sad. But I do think that Gaiman did a great job creating an unlikeable character who I actually kind of liked!

I guess ‘liked’ shouldn’t be the word I use. I don’t really like Mr. Smith, per say, but I think part of me can understand why he is the way he is, given the past and history he comes from. I can sympathize, I guess. And, as disgusting and sad as their work is, I’m glad that these two despicable men were able to find a kind of home and family in one another. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of a culture made of all women and few men, even if the goal is inky to shelter this one man into perfect, beautiful adulthood! Gaiman also says we’re going to see both Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice again in a later story, so I can’t wait to see how that one might change my opinion if these characters and their story!

Well, folks, that’s all for this leg of the read-a-long! If you’re reading along as well, I hope you were able to enjoy these stories as much as I did. If you’re not, I hope that whatever you’re reading is keeping you up at night with it’s brilliance! Now, I’m off with FBM to our new church home for a good time of food and fellowship (PS: we finally found a new church home! Yay! Hehe) so, I leave you all with peasant reading wishes and autumn dreams!

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anna
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 17:24:42

    Great discussion this week, Chels! I didn’t like this week’s reading at all, unfortunately, so it’s nice to take a look at them from the point of view of someone who did seem to enjoy them. 🙂

    I did not understand Bitter Grounds at all, either. It was just… weird. And I have too many questions about the story.

    As for Keepsakes and Treasures, I was really uncomfortable about the story, but when you talk about it, it makes me appreciate it a lot more. I guess most of Mr. Smith’s personality can be explained by his depressing beginnings, and it is easier to sympathize with him (well, maybe not on the sex with little girls part) if we look at it that way. I am tentatively looking forward to the next short story featuring the two of them, I think. Haha.

    Reply

    • Chelsea
      Sep 25, 2011 @ 17:36:44

      Thanks, Anna! I am really kind of hoping that someone will be able to explain “Bitter Grounds” to me, but it’s looking like most people had as much trouble with the zombie part as I did! lol. But, yeah, I think I’ve always kind of had a soft spot for totally despicable characters with a sympathetic background. Not that I think that excuses anything, but it does remind me that we are all potentially capable of anything, given the right set of circumstances. I’m just now making the rounds, so I can’t wait to read your thoughts for the week!

      Reply

  2. Kristen M.
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 19:38:56

    Finally someone else who liked Going Wodwo! This was the first poem in the collection that I enjoyed and didn’t have to read multiple times just to understand.

    After reading what you wrote about Bitter Grounds, I think my conclusion about that story is that there were too many types of zombies. I think that the original Jackson Anderton must have actually been a zombie or something. There was no reason for the tow truck driver to go crazy and attack him so it must have been the other way around — like he was infected through his research or something. Plus, he was a bit obvious about the wallet, wasn’t he? And then there were the coffee girls and then the zombie drug teen. It was just all a bit much for me.

    And I understood why Smith was a killer but I don’t understand why he had to be a pedophile. That was the moment that I really became disgusted by the story. Even Mr. Alice’s actions didn’t seem as bad. I don’t know. There was just something “unnecessary” about that story, if you know what I mean.

    Great post this week! The stories certainly lent themselves to a lot of discussion!

    Reply

    • Grace
      Sep 26, 2011 @ 19:04:30

      I liked “Going Wodwo” too!

      As far as “Bitter Grounds,” I wonder if the narrator might be going through some sort of mental breakdown, largely because the characters he interacts with tend to show up then disappear abruptly, but at the same time there are common threads found in his discussions with each of them.

      Reply

  3. Carl V.
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 17:42:34

    Love your description of your feelings about Going Wodwo and agree with you about your closing statements in that part of your review. I want to like this one more and while I enjoy the imagery it creates and am a fan of the theme this one just didn’t spark for me. I suspect that one day I’ll go read it in the woods all by myself and it will come alive for me.

    Bitter Grounds is disappointing in many ways, not the least of which is that there are elements of a great story in there that to me become lost in the jumble of not-quite-realized ideas. I think there are very creepy and mysterious parts that are very effective and the scenes where he becomes another person are fascinating. But they are couched in a horror story of some sort that is confusing and just doesn’t work.

    Other People is so great at conveying such a powerful message. It is not a story I “like” but it is one that I appreciate for the skill of the story being told. I don’t see myself ever reading it again (I have several times in the past) but I give Gaiman his due in writing it.

    Keepsakes and Treasures to me is Gaiman taking a step backwards. True he does a great job in creating unlikeable characters who you may have a bit of sympathy for, but he has done that time and again without resorting to lurid sexual descriptions that feel more like they were written to shock and amuse juvenile readers. If this was the only way he could create evil characters with a bit of humanity in them that would be one thing. But he can do it without writing this way and so I cannot do anything but find this kind of story disgusting and unworthy of his talent.

    Reply

  4. Kailana
    Sep 28, 2011 @ 14:54:53

    I was a bit disappointed with the stories this week. They didn’t do a lot for me. The next bunch are working a lot better.

    Reply

  5. Trackback: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Five « Book Maven’s Blog
  6. Trackback: The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up « Book Maven’s Blog

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