Fragile Things Groupread, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the Fragile Things Groupread, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  The Groupread is also a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, in which readers and bloggers share their thoughts on spooky stories.

As with last week, there are no set discussion questions, so I’ll just talk a bit about each of the four stories that we’re reading this week.  From this point hence, there may be spoilers.

The Hidden Chamber

Deliciously creepy.  The poem is based upon one of Perrault’s fairy tales about a nobleman who murders his wives.  I had never heard of Bluebeard’s tale before, although upon looking it up it seemed vaguely familiar.  Gaiman tells the story from Bluebeard’s perspective upon the arrival of a new wife.  I found it eerie that Bluebeard went out of his way to rescue a butterfly while plotting his wife’s demise.  It was a perfect way to frame his lack of sanity.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire

Facetious nonsense.  Luckily, I happen to enjoy facetious nonsense.  In this story, Gaiman reverses fantasy and reality.  The main character is a writer in a world where horror is the norm, and can’t seem to write anything without making fun of it.  Embedded in the story are the unnamed narrator’s writings.  Eventually, a raven advises him that they are garbage, and that the reason why he can’t write anything good is because he is bored with reality.  He then writes about a woman who realizes while making toast one morning that she is dissatisfied and unfulfilled with her marriage.  I thought that reversing fantasy and reality was pretty cool.  It makes readers realize that what is considered to be “normal” is incredibly subjective, and makes us think about our own world in a fresh way.

The Flints of Memory Lane

I found this one to be a bit unsatisfying, although I suppose that that is the point that Gaiman was trying to  make–that real life doesn’t always mold itself in the way that a good story does.

Closing Time

Out of all the stories this week, this was my favorite.  The story resembles a story-within-a-story, beginning with a few people sitting around drinking and telling ghost stories.  The narrator then tells his own ghost story from his childhood.  I enjoyed the way that Gaiman described childhood adventures, especially the way the boy’s mother reacted when he said the word “fuck.”  Gaiman vividly portrayed being one of the neighborhood kids in a realistic way that I think most grown-ups forget.  I found myself recalling similar events from my own childhood (not creepy door-knocker things, although I did find it interesting that the boy had drawn a picture at school of a house with a demonic door knocker.  Coincidence?).  Every school has its ghost stories, and every town has houses that all the kids are afraid of.  I would have probably dismissed the ghost story as imagination paired with a practical joke if it weren’t for the old man at the end.  I’m curious as to what was in the playhouse.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve loved both of the Gaiman poems that we’ve read thus far, and I can’t wait to read more.  The chilling story-within-a-story framework is also something that Gaiman does quite well; I enjoyed “Closing Time” and “The October Chair” for similar reasons.  Thus far, I’ve been liking most of the stories in this collection and am quite glad to be doing the groupread!

17 thoughts on “Fragile Things Groupread, Part 2

  1. I really thought for a moment you hadn’t liked Forbidden Brides…I loved it and, because it genuinely did make me think about normality and subjectivity, and my own desire, once upon a time, to be a writer, I take it quite seriously as a story. Interesting that you liked Closing Time best – it certainly does say something about the way children relate to each other, doesn’t it? He’s so good at detail…

    1. Forbidden Brides was a lot of fun to read. I found myself laughing out loud several times while reading it…

      It was really hard to pick a favorite this week, because I absolutely loved three of them.

  2. I really enjoy Gaiman’s use of a story within a story, too. It makes such short stories much more engaging and, well, brilliant. I wasn’t crazy about the poem, but I mostly enjoyed everything else. I wouldn’t say I loved them, but I enjoyed them.

    1. I think it’s interesting too because this is a book that I wouldn’t have picked up if it weren’t for the groupread, and I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it thus far. I know there will be a few stories, such as Flints of Memory Lane, that I won’t really care for, but I’m finding many of them to be a lot of fun.

  3. Funny, your favorite was my least favorite, although you’re right about how he does a good job of bringing childhood to life. He always does. I like your description of Forbidden Brides as, basically, “facetious nonsense for those who like facetious nonsense.” I think he has a way of making the reader think that’s what he’s writing but underneath it all is some pretty powerful stuff.

    1. Yeah. At first glance, it seems like just a silly story (and I don’t think that silly is a bad thing; the world needs more delightful nonsense), but then it makes one question the nature of normality. It was clever, and looks like it would have been a lot of fun to write.

  4. I also thought Closing Time was my favorite from this group of stories. I totally forgot about the painting that the boy took from his school. What an interesting detail. 🙂 I wonder what made him paint that picture in the first place… Had he somehow known about the door knocker before he saw it in real life? Maybe subconsciously?

    1. After reading Carl’s comment, I went back to look at the chronology… I think he painted it after the incident, but it’s still intriguing that he felt strongly enough about it to go back and steal it when the school had closed.

      1. Oh I agree. If I had an incident that scary I’m not sure I would want to remember it, but he obviously had some connection to the memory and wanted that painting for some reason. It is interesting to speculate what reasons would make him want to have that visual reminder of the incident.

  5. Yes! The butterfly! I was quite intrigued that he would rescue such a thing from his house with no flowers in it, but would purposely bring in a new lady friend. I also wondered briefly if perhaps that butterfly was only metaphorical, if maybe he had released a potential wife and then was like, never mind I’d better go get another. Because that would make him even creepier, really.

    1. That is an interesting interpretation, Alison. I think the butterfly is just what it is, especially since it makes the Bluebeard character more monstrous to see how gently he would protect the life of a butterfly and be so much more cavalier, by his very nature, in taking the lives of women. But I do like your idea.

      1. It’s interesting because that little detail reveals so much about Bluebeard as a whole, and shows that we can’t just assume that he’s the flat character that he’s depicted as in the original tale. I like that we get his perspective instead of the wife’s, as I rather enjoy unreliable/demented narrators.

        1. It does. One thing that is sometimes lacking in the older folk tales, or at least the homogenized versions of them, is the deeper look at the characters being portrayed. It is unfair on some level because many of the characters in those stories seem to be meant to represent one thing, be it good or bad. While I don’t believe we can always sympathize with characters, any more than we can sympathize with people who do things we find abhorrent, but we can at least try to see things from their point of view and understand them more and this story gives us the briefest glimpse into Bluebeard’s character and while what I see still terrifies me on some level it also helps me understand more.

          1. It makes it much more believable to me as well. People have their own motivations for their actions, whether they are good or evil. I like it when writers acknowledge that complexity in their villains. I thought it was interesting the way that Bluebeard was musing that his new wife should probably run away before she meets her fate…

            1. Yes. I like villains being villains. I don’t want every character to exist in some watered down gray area, but like you said so well, it is more interesting when a villain is complex.

  6. The butterfly mention in The Hidden Chamber is ” It was a perfect way to frame his lack of sanity”. It is also an apt examination of how the human heart can hold both beautiful and monstrous sentiments at the same time. You should check out Angela Carter’s story, The Bloody Chamber. It is a great twist on the Bluebeard tale.

    In Closing Time, I don’t think the character drew the picture until AFTER he had the experience. If you read it again you’ll see that he went to steal the picture he had drawn earlier after the school was closed. He mentions that “while the school was still open” he would walk home and during one of these walks he had his adventure. The assumption then would be that though he did not recount the event to anyone he obviously didn’t forget about it and he drew a picture of the door knocker in his art class.

    You are so right in that Gaiman does a great job of capturing what it was like to be a kid in that story. So much of the wandering around, the boys looking at a dirty magazine, the telling dirty jokes, the body stuff…that all reminds me so much of my own childhood and the way Gaiman relates it through the young narrator in the story is so authentic.

    Dang creepy story.

    Forbidden Brides really is brilliant “facetious nonsense”, isn’t it. So much fun.

    1. Oooh, I shall have to check out her story as well. I think there’s a lot of potential in the Bluebeard story.

      I really liked the way that the narrator got some additional credence at the end of the story. I think a lot of the time we assume that kids just have wild imaginations, but they know a lot more than we give them credit for, and there’s normally some kind of a reason behind many childhood fears.

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