Admittedly, I am not a short story person. Most authors seem to think short stories should always leave the reader wanting more. I’m of the opinion that if I pay full admission to the museum, I get to see all the things and not be hustled out the door after making it past the lobby. Short stories should be appetizing little morsels, a blissful snack that may leave you with a ghost of taste long after you finish, but never still famished. Epiphanies in pastries if you like alliteration. Gaiman is masterful at it. You always get a delicious desert that leaves you fulfilled, even if it does come with a bit of regret – you’ll never taste this taste, at this perfect moment ever again.
Some of the stories in Trigger Warning have been previously published elsewhere, so if you are a rabid Gaiman fan, there might not be as many new delicacies for you. As for me, Gaiman fan through and through, I still rarely pick up short story collections, so this book was quite the treat. I’ll highlight a few of my thoughts on some of my favorite stories.
The Thing about Cassandra: A short tale of a man that invented a girlfriend in his teenage years and later, she turned out to be real. An ode to the power of imagination and nostalgia. Everyone has that one that “got away” or the one that never moved past the stages to even get to the “got away” stage. Stuart now has the chance to keep the one that not only got away, but never got real in the first place.
Adventure Story: Call your mother. Suffer, if you must, the twenty minutes or so when she rambles on about the latest gossip at the senior center or the incredibly dull story about her trip to Wal-Mart. Or maybe only my mother is like that.
Orange: A short story that I actually have read before! It was in the book “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me”, a mediocre collection of short stories inspired by fairy tales. Gaiman’s Orange was the only silver lining in that book. Orange was unique in that it was set in modern times with a more modern fairy tale creature – aliens. The story also abandoned traditional narrative structure, adding to its charm.
A Calendar of Tales: A short story comprised of shorter stories about each month. My favorite was July, not just because its my birth month. I wish the book didn’t have quiet so pointy edges, because I wanted to curl up in bed with that story and hold it and breathe it in. Mr. Gaiman probably doesn’t know he wrote that story for me, but July and I have a connection and I want to sit on a porch and grow old with it.
The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury: Here’s a trigger warning for you – do not read this one in public. I finished this one snuggled up in bed, Mr. Quorren asleep beside me because he goes to work at 3 am, trying so hard not to let my sobs wake him up. I’m tearing up even thinking about it again. It’s a story for Gaiman’s dead friend with a forgotten name; it’s a story for Ray Bradbury as he was dying; it’s a story for, I think, Terry Pratchett, as he loses himself; it’s a story of growing old and mortality. It’s a story of dementia running in Mr. Quorren’s family and how we joke about when we’re in our eighties and I’ll have to chase him down the street because he forgot to put on pants and how I laugh about it, but it terrifies me because I’m not entirely sure I can do it, if he does lose himself and I’m living with a stranger that wears Mr. Quorren’s face.
Observing the Formalities/The Sleeper and the Spindle: If the current un-Disney-fying, gritty fairy tales genre was one fourth as interesting, provocative and feminist as these two stories (really, a poem and a story), I would hold them in much higher esteem. A villain being the hero of her own story, with a plot that doesn’t solving revolve around her reacting to a man? Yes, please. A queen telling her prince fiance to suck it up, she has shit to do, so the wedding has to wait? Yes, times a thousand. A queen putting on armor and waving around a sword with purpose? Yes, I want to go to there. Dwarves not being used for crass humor? YAAASSSS, as the internet says. (This really isn’t a feminist issue, I just want dwarves to get the respectability and dignity they deserve.)
Black Dog: A must read for any American Gods fans. Shadow is back AND Bast makes an appearance. (Truth be told, though, I am a bit biased; Bast is probably my favorite Gaiman character ever.)
And yes, I did finish it in less than 24 hours. It is that good.