By Neil Gaiman
(William Morrow, $26.99)
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
“Many of these stories end badly for at least one of the people in them.”
Perhaps no sentence encapsulates the eerie, vertiginous work of fantasist Neil Gaiman quite like this one from the introduction to “Trigger Warning,” his new collection of short stories. The title refers to the practice of giving advance notice of material that may shock, disturb or offend.
For this book, Gaiman posits that the only warning should be “enter at your own risk.” Sometimes fiction isn’t safe, and shouldn’t be, for it’s often from unsettling and upsetting experiences that one can learn the most. And the subjects of these stories learn a lot: That people are rarely what they seem. That myths rarely ever die. The best way to build a new reality out of books (stick to the paperbacks; hardcovers are too heavy). Why we still don’t have flying cars. And to never trust a duck, especially in a poker game.
Gaiman calls these tales “experiments,” and seems to thoroughly enjoy the eccentricity that label allows. The stories are diverse and eclectic, inspired by fairy tales and ghost stories, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, David Bowie and Ray Bradbury. Some revisit established settings, including a new tale set in the universe of Gaiman’s celebrated novel “American Gods,” while others create their own weird worlds from scratch.
But everywhere lurks that familiar Gaiman sense of unease and imbalance: Even in the most mundane of places, even in the happy endings, there’s a feeling that things could turn on the edge of a knife, that the shadows may yet lunge out and bite. In the hands of a good writer, that frisson of danger brings a special thrill to the terrible. In the hands of a master like Gaiman, it can take on a strange wonder and beauty as well.