By Neil Gaiman. William Morrow, 400 pp, hardcover
It’s likely trite to say, but unavoidable: Neil Gaiman is probably the closest the writing world gets to a rock star. With his genre- and format-hopping (from children’s books to YA and adult novels to graphic novels and screenplays), his staggering social-media presence, his sold-out appearances, and his overwhelming publishing schedule, the Neil Gaiman phenomenon runs the risk of overshadowing Gaiman as a writer. In fact, his last autographing—the only such event scheduled for his new book—lasted almost 12 hours.
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, the new collection, serves then as a potent reminder of why Gaiman has become a phenomenon, a reminder that, underneath it all, it is the stories that matter.
For these are potent stories indeed.
As Gaiman warns in the introduction, “there are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you.” Hence the warning in the title. But, he goes on, “there is kindness, too, I hope, sometimes.”
It is that uneasy equilibrium, those glimpses of light in the dark, that gives many of these stories their power.
“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…”, for example, follows the quest for a fabled cave that holds an endless treasure. It’s a cruel story on a number of levels, but threaded through with a father’s love for his lost daughter, for his lost life. “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, which liberally unsettles and blends the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, is darker by far than its inspirations, but opens outward in unexpected, liberating ways. It’s a fairy tale for a dark age.
The marquee attraction here is “Black Dog”, a previously unpublished story that picks up the travels of Shadow, the hero of Gaiman’s breakthrough novel, American Gods. It’s a smaller story than one might expect, surprisingly intimate considering Shadow’s previous adventures, but in its intimacy it highlights Gaiman’s greatest strength: his insights into the human heart, where light and dark, good and evil, constantly shift and swirl, never settling.