This book destroys me every time. Everything about it so so achingly beautiful and also so vividly terrifying. It’s a thin and unassuming little book that turns on you about 3 pages in and I love it.
Gaiman perfectly captures the reminiscing of childhood and the actual child perspective in the same story as our narrator remembers a terrible event that happens when he’s seven. But Gaiman makes a remarkable craft choice in that he writes most of the narrative from the seven year-old’s point of view and understanding. We end up seeing both the man and the child in the same character at almost the same time. This narration choice is why the book comes across as so terrifying. Child-speak is plain and in-your-face. It doesn’t wax nostalgic, it doesn’t use metaphor or hyperbole. It doesn’t try to make any kind of introspective sense. It is exactly what it says it is, so as the reader, we know that not only is this narrator completely reliable, but he is also telling the truth with a child’s innocence because he knows nothing else. He doesn’t try to understand it or explain it, he just tells us.
And Gaiman starts us off there; the first line of Chapter 1 is “Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.” Right there, you want to start crying for this poor kid. There’s something so emotionally raw in the straight, factual evidence of this moment. And the man-narrator doesn’t spend 3 consecutive paragraphs trying to explain why he was so unpopular. The seven-year-old just knows that he is as evidenced by no one bothering to show up to his birthday. He takes it in stride, but it’s a heartbreaking stride because it signals that he’s used to it. Gaiman similarly plays with our emotions throughout the book, building up a certain character or event, only to eviscerate it in a single sentence on the next page. And because he’s using a seven-year-old to tell us, it’s impossible to soften the blow because our 1st grade narrator doesn’t know how.
Gaiman starts and ends his book from the man’s perspective, so we get the introspection, the metaphor, and the pieces sliding together for the big, emotionally traumatic ending. It’s a work of art, really. The writing is tight and minimal, every sentence and description specifically placed to drip with meaning and emotion while simultaneously launching the story forward. There’s no fat to trim in this work, and as much as it’s a quiet tale, there’s a persistent deepness that sits with you long after you’ve closed the book.