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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

May 11, 2015 | The Crew

This weeks review of Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning comes to us from Cassia Kesler, mother of two boys and a freelance writer. She and her husband Scott live in Birmingham. Her favorite activities include lying on the grass at the park, attending rock shows, and arguing with Cal about books.


In Neil Gaiman’s short story, “Click-Clack the Rattlebag,” when a boy is asked to describe the monsters, he says, “They look like what you aren’t expecting. What you aren’t paying attention to,” and this is true of most of Gaiman’s characters, whether they turn out to be monsters or gods. From homeless waifs to proper ladies who lead double lives, these are the people you’d pass on the street without giving them a second thought. But they could prove to be your worst nightmare. Or your salvation.


Trigger Warning is the newest collection of Gaiman’s work, with stories ranging from lilting nursery rhymes to notes from a crime investigation. The collection includes an episode of Dr. Who which he wrote for the TV series in 2013; “Black Dog,” a story featuring the protagonist from his novel American Gods; and a fairytale rendition of a Sherlock Holmes story. In each story, the supernatural transfigures the mundane. Gaiman seems to have left behind the more gruesome violence and other cheap tricks of his earliest works for more sophisticated horror, like the description of a house taken over by a monster where the walls begin to grow hair. So subtle, so freaky.


These stories are the stuff of nightmares; they will send shivers down your back, in the best way. But their effect on me is more like the effect Tom Waits’s music: creepy, yet oddly comforting. If you contrast Gaiman with Stephen King (another one of my favorite authors), for example, one might say that King’s inner child is a bloodthirsty, maniacal demon, while Gaiman’s is more of an elf. A very dark and cold-blooded elf, whose bloodline goes back hundreds of generations, and whose tricks could drive you mad if you let them. But still. There is something humanizing about these stories, where the grotesque, the marginalized and the overlooked manage to the outwit the more clever, in spite of all odds. This is the true magic of Gaiman’s work, and what I like best about it.


In the introduction, Gaiman offers brief notes about each tale, which deepened my appreciation. In particular, I love “A Calendar of Tales,” for how it was inspired and developed, and “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” as a fitting homage to Gaiman’s literary hero. Gaiman says of Bradbury that he “was kind and gentle … and genuinely liked people,” and I think this is true of Gaiman as well. “Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything,” Bradbury said once in an interview. And I think the reader can tell by these stories that Gaiman agrees.


This book is best enjoyed with an irish coffee and Alice by Tom Waits on the stereo.

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