This is the writer that shines through in full force on the pages of Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, a collection of short stories from the much-adored author of American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Though most of the stories in the collection have appeared elsewhere, they have been published in such disparate places that the likelihood of any one reader having read them all is slim to none (the Sherlock-Holmes inspired story, "The Case of Death and Honey," for example, was written for the Sherlockian anthology A Study in Sherlock; "And Weep, Like Alexander" appeared in a collection inspired by Arthur C. Clarke, and boasts a character named Obediah Polkinghorn because of it; "Pearls: A Fairy Tale" was written as the caption to a photo of Amanda Palmer posing as herself dead, back before Gaiman and Palmer were married).
All of the stories in Trigger Warning are divinely strange. A young boy clamors for a bedtime story that's just a little bit scary, and the subtle creepiness of "Click--Clack the Rattlebag" that ensues will leave adults switching lights on in dark rooms before entering. Sleeping Beauty's well-known story is reimagined in the most clever way in both "Observing the Formalities" and "The Sleeper and the Spindle." "A Calendar of Tales" collects twelve stories inspired by strangers' tweets to Gaiman, while "Orange" is told entirely as answers to questions to which we are not privvy, the answers building a story of their own.
Perhaps the most fascinating piece in the collection, though, is Gaiman's introduction to his work, in which he explores the idea of "trigger warnings," and lays out for readers not only the story behind each piece in the collection (because, he writes, he likes it when authors do that himself), but why he has collected them together in one place. He writes,
"But so much of what we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: we need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else's experience of the story.
We build the stories in our heads. We take words, and we give them power, and we look out through other eyes, and we experience, what they see. I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself: Should they be?"
The fictions in Trigger Warnings are not safe places, and Gaiman does not shy away from that. Instead, he invites readers to lean into it, experiencing the risk and, in return, the full reward of the most speculative of fiction, the strangest of stories, and the wonder of words.
Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley of this title for review.
Trigger Warning | Neil Gaiman | William Morrow | Hardcover | February 2015