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Unsettling shorts

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Book >> "Fragile Things"
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All your life, people have been telling you that you should never wish your life away.

Never, they said, wish it was “next Wednesday” or “next week.” Never say “I wish it was Christmas already,” because you only have so many days to live and time goes plenty fast.

There’s a reason for that “time flies” phenomenon and for that strange “been here before” dejà vu feeling you sometimes get. Find out more in “Goliath,” just one of the short stories in “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman.

In his introduction, Gaiman says many of the stories in this book were written with certain friends, characters, and idols in mind: Peter Straub inspired one tale. Sherlock Holmes influenced another. Author Michael Chabon requested a story for an anthology he was editing. One tale was written specifically to accompany a CD by singer Tori Amos. Some of these stories have won awards. Most of the chapters have been printed in previous books or obscure magazines.

Campfires are natural places for storytelling, and in “October in the Chair,” the months of the year have gathered for a meeting in front of a roaring fire. As with many meetings, everyone tries to outdo the others on outrageous, fanciful tales. It’s October’s turn in The Chair, so it’s his prerogative to tell the last story. Not only is October a chilly month, but his tale is equally shiver-inducing.

Do you believe everything anyone ever tells you? In “Closing Time,” a group of young men hang out at an “exclusive” drinking club because it offers companionship after the pubs close. When one of them relays a memory of boyhood innocence lost, no one believes it … until a quiet, ashen, thin old man adds a bit of his own twist to the shocking story.

In the novella “Bitter Grounds,” a man tries to escape his own life by assuming the life of another. With the help of an unwitting pseudo-colleague, the man learns more about his supposed career, and his ruse works – for a while. Sometimes, though, a little knowledge truly is a dangerous thing.

When you’ve been evil and unrepentant, you’ve been undoubtedly told where you’ll go when you die. In “Other People,” a man learns that the punishment lasts forever, but forever sometimes isn’t long enough.

Do you like to read in bed? If you do, leave this book in the kitchen or living room – somewhere, anywhere but next to your mattress. “Fragile Things” isn’t the kind of book that will give you goosebumps or make you check the locks or look under the bed. No, “Fragile Things” is very unsettling. Author Neil Gaiman brilliantly pulls you out of your comfort zone by mercilessly making your subconscious squirm. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but in a very good way, you won’t like what you read.

Don’t wish your life away. Use the rest of your days wisely by picking up a copy of “Fragile Things. But beware. Read this book before bed – and if you can sleep, it won’t be restfully.


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