Fragile Things Read-a-Long Week Four


Hey guys! I hope that everyone out here has seen October dawn as beautifully as it has here in the Midwest. With the exception of one quite toasty day here this week, it’s been cool and sunny and all kinds of wonderful with those glorious changing trees! One of these days, I’m going to make it out to New England for a real fall, but until then I’m perfectly content with what I’ve got! The stories for this week’s installment of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman were, in my opinion, some of the best so far, although I seem to be among the few who really didn’t mind last week’s stories. This week we’re talking about “Good Boys Deserve Favors”, “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch”, “Strange Little Girls”, and “Harlequin Valentine”. And while I was totally in love with three of the stories, “Miss Finch” really did nothing for me.

“Good Boys Deserve Favors”

I think I loved this one for many of the same reasons that I loved “Flints of Memory Lane”, because of it’s realism, it’s tone, and a lingering feeling, when done, of something hiding just below the surface. It’s a fictional example, I think, of what Neil does best! However, whereas “Flints” was more about seeing the horror in he minutia of the everyday, “Good Boys” is more about the magic of reality, or at least things that exist in the everyday. At least, I like reading it that way more.

I love the concept of music as magic, of there being almost a literal spirit than can overtake you and produce beautiful music through you. This is, I believe, what happens to the “I” of “Good Boys”, and it’s why he’s able to do

things with the bass that an experienced jazz bass player with hands as big as my head would not have done

I mean, that’s magic in the everyday if I’ve ever seen it. I also think Neil does a wonderful job of creating a character who is so beautifully ordinary, who sounds like I did when I was in the sixth grade and playing the violin in my elementary school orchestra. It’s because of this normalcy that the magic of the music is that much more extraordinary. Truly, I thought this was probably one of my two favorites of the week, and I just hope that everyone else loved it as much as I did!

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch

Alright. So. Here is what I got from this story. I’m BEGGING for someone who liked this story to enlighten me: couple eating sushi. Fake name, bitchy lady. Creepy circus-type haunted house freak show. Many rooms. Animals, magic jungle, no more lady.

That’s it! A total, total loss for me.

“Strange Little Girls”

This was definitely my other favorite story of this week. Because I love vignettes. And because I love Tori Amos. And because they succeeded in perfectly creeping me out, right as the weather was cooling off. It was the perfect story at the perfect time and I love when that happens!

I think that some of my favorite prose in the entire collection so fa has been in this story. Take, for example, the seven lines that is the first vignette, “New Age”:

She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.
You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.

I mean, COME ON!!! That’s gorgeous, and while that’s not all it takes for me to love a piece of writing, it certainly helps. I also loved recognizing so many of the lines from the liner notes of Tori Amos’s CD by the same title. One of my college roommates was a huge Tori Amos fan, and turned me on to the lovely lady herself. She’s been a favorite ever since!

Some of my other favorite vignettes include “Silence”, “Time”, “Heart of Gold”, “Happiness”, and “Real Men”! Hehe 😀

“Harlequin Valentine”

This story was an interesting read for me. I loved it, but it made me sad. I was fascinated, but still get a little lost about the whole commedia dell’arte thing. I tried to wikipedia what I could, but am still having a tough time feeling comfortable saying I understood the full extent of the story. But, the good news and the blessing of it being a Gaiman story is that not fully understanding it didn’t keep me from loving it so, so completely!!!

I loved that the story started with the Harlequin pinning his real heart to the door as a valentine. There is something so grossly romantic about a gesture (emphasis on the grossly!) That he follows her all over town, spinning verse and sweets nothings in favor of his beloved Columbine I think is just the curran thing – there was something that totally drew me to the Harlequin and all if his charming, cocky swagger! 🙂

I also love that, in the end, Columbine and the Harlequin switch places. I seem to have read a number of stories like this recently (most Gaiman’s, some not!) and the idea is just fantastical and creepy enough to work. And here, it’s done with such humor that I couldn’t help but chuckle. The only problem I had with this story, in fact, is what happened after the switch!

The ending to this story was so heartbreakingly sad for me that I’m sure it’ll stick with me for a long, long time. The fact that this once magical, fun, spirited being is now living amongst the mundane, devoid of the skip and sparkle that made me love him so much to begin with. And the very end? When that single red diamond appears on “Pete’s” sleeve?! I lost it! It was so sad that I think that kept it from being one of my favorites. Not necessarily on it’s own merit, but in comparison to the other amazing stories we read this week!

Well, folks, that about wraps it up for my reflections on the fourth week of the read-a-long! In other bookish news, I’m finally going to get around to posting my latest Library Loot, which I actually recorded before Banned Books Week! I’m also glad to say that I have quite the little back-catalogue of books to talk about, so I’m looking forward to catching up on those this week! Thing with me and FBM are good, if boring, and I’m just enjoying the beautiful weather and the fabulous books! Hope that you’re enjoying your Sunday, however busy you are, and that this week is full of happy reading!


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kailana
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 01:22:07

    I am obviously missing something with Tori Amos. I just tried to listen to the CD that the story is based off and I wasn’t a huge fan… Maybe I should try something else by her?


    • Grace
      Oct 03, 2011 @ 20:13:05

      Yeah, I didn’t really get that poem either, mostly because I hadn’t listened to the Tori Amos cd. I think I’ll have to make time to do that at some point.


  2. Carl V.
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 03:33:41

    I’m with you all the way in hoping to see a “real” fall sometime, ala New England. We came close several years ago but missed the good time of year by a handful of weeks.

    So happy that you enjoyed Good Boys so much. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement: “and a lingering feeling, when done, of something hiding just below the surface”. That is exactly what I feel too. I also think the “realism” of each story gives it something extra, making the horror story more creepy and this story of musical triumph more joyful.

    I actually like Miss Finch a lot, the story and the woman. She is initially presented as a very snobbish woman, but I think Gaiman shows us that this is just her own defense mechanism, which drops once the conversation turns towards a subject about which she has a real passion. I see her as someone who is probably extremely uncomfortable around people but in her element when it comes to animals. What happens in the carnival is bizarre and on one hand unsettling, but I also like to think that Miss Finch was given a great gift–the opportunity to experience the only life in which she would ever truly flourish.

    “Vignettes”! Yes, exactly the word I was looking for. I wish I connected to these vignettes the way I do with the upcoming Vampire Tarot vignettes, but I just don’t, despite a real affection for Tori Amos. I’m not sure why but the few times I’ve tried to listen to Strange Little Girls the songs just don’t grab me. But that is okay, because I see Amos as so much like Gaiman in that they are both so talented and they do different things with different works for different people.

    As I mentioned in response to your comments, I don’t see the fate of Harlequin as sad at all. I actually see it as quite a happy little story. Missy gets a chance to take a direction in her life that she will probably really enjoy and we see Harlequin..aka Pete…whistling at the end at the thought of a tryst with his co-worker. I don’t see him at all being a tragic figure. But that is just my reaction, I’m certainly not trying to imply that yours isn’t entirely reasonable and justified.

    All in all a very enjoyable week of stories. Look forward to re-examining next week’s grouping of four.


  3. Emily Barton
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 14:01:03

    Funny, , like Carl, I didn’t find Harlequin Valentine sad at all. I found the ending very hopeful, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see how it could also be interpreted as sad. Also, interesting that you didn’t like Miss Finch, whereas I fell into that one almost from the moment it began. So interesting to get everyone’s different takes.


    • Chelsea
      Oct 03, 2011 @ 15:25:00

      Kailana – I’m so sorry that Strange Little Girls didn’t work for you! It’s one of my favorite Amos albums, but as Carl said, Gaiman and Amos both do so much that there is always something out there to work for someone: perhaps you should try her first album, Little Earthquakes (always a classic) or my second favorite of hers, To Venus and Back! Let me know what you think/if you get the chance to give Amos another try!

      Carl – I’m kind of surprised that no one else sees the sadness in the Harlequin story, but I’m kind of glad no one else does, because I don’t WANT to read the story as sad! Honest! lol. There is just something in there about losing yourself and not being able to remember even losing it that is just sad to me. Also, as I’ve been hopping around and reading what everyone else has to say, I think I might be coming around to “Miss Finch” – there just must have been something I missed the first time, and I’m definitely setting out to do a re-read. I also can’t wait for the vampire tarot vignettes – vignette fiction is one of my favorite kinds, and coupled with the tarot…whoo buddy!

      Emily – I’m not surprised you didn’t read “Harlequin Valentine” as sad – few people seem to do so, and I’m kind of jealous of that! I almost wish this story wasn’t such a sad read for me! But you’ve hit the nail on the head: one of the best parts of a read-a-long is hearing everyone elses thoughts!


  4. Grace
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 20:15:26

    Miss Finch was actually my favorite of the stories. I liked how the narrator found himself getting dragged along to social events to occupy this stern, somewhat bitchy lady who kept lecturing him about the sushi. She doesn’t seem approachable at all until they start talking about what she studies, at which point it’s like she becomes a different person. I think the overarching point is about how people aren’t always as they seem, and that someone who may seem distant and unreachable at first could end up being totally awesome.


  5. Carl V.
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 22:49:47

    My only request with the Tori Amos CD is that if you don’t like Strange Little Girls that you don’t write off the rest of her music, because she is incredibly talented.


    Oct 04, 2011 @ 21:53:03

    I’m glad that you think you might be coming round to liking Miss Finch – I think she’ll be really happy with those smiladons. I thought of Strange Little Girls as miniatures, but vignettes is the perfect word. It fascinates me how much can be packed into a small space, and I love the lines at the end. I tried re-reading them to see how much they would be changed if they were all boys. It was interesting…


    • Chelsea
      Oct 07, 2011 @ 16:19:37

      I never would have thought to try something like that! All the little characters just seemed so inherently feminine…and yet, maybe that’s because I was told up front that they were all girls. That’s definitely an experience I’ll have to try!


  7. Trackback: The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up « Book Maven’s Blog

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