Welcome to the Corner
Welcome to Emily’s Corner. This is a corner of the world you have not seen before because it only exists in my head: a place my inner Mom sends me when my thoughts are too much to handle and I need a time-out. While it’s not a hard corner you’d be afraid to bump into every time you come into the living room, and it’s not a corner you turn where something fanged and slimy is waiting to eat your entrails, it’s also not a corner of the fourth dimension where unicorns and puppies frolic in fields of poppies–well, not much. This corner is honest, from the perspective of one. It’s where you, too, can send yourself for a time-out. I’m a good sharer; I’ll even give you half of the popsicle I took from the freezer when Mom wasn’t looking.
Note: Parts of this corner are linked to some semblance of universal reality for your pleasure and convenience.
For your first Corner story, I offer insight into Trigger Warning, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. It’s odd, because Emily’s Corner, perhaps, needs a “trigger warning.” (No, that’s not irony.)
Rule number one of Gaiman club: talk about Gaiman club. As much as possible. It’s easy once you get started. Also, read Coraline if you have only seen the movie. It will scare the pants off you. But don’t worry. You don’t need your pants.
Rule number two of Gaiman club: in the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut, I will not copy the writing of someone else. Rule number two is not a repetition of number one, and it is a good rule for reading many books:
Read the introduction.
I tell my students to read the introductions to their texts because it will impress the hell out of their instructors, and, in my experience, this is true. The real reason I want students to read the introduction, though, is they will get so much more out of a text if they do.
The introduction of Trigger Warning made me feel validated as a human being who wears masks, is a writer, and has been a flight attendant. Being any one of these (which is inescapable if you are reading this) is rife with opportunities for discovering metaphors, human behavior, and understanding our own behavior. As for Gaiman’s introduction, he is a master of words. Good poets often are. There’s a song-like lyricism to all he writes, combined with wit, wonder and wonky. He uses phrases like “hodgepodge” and “willy-nilly.” I feel this last bit makes my argument for me. You might need more convincing, however.
In the introduction, Gaiman welcomes you to his mind and method with a quick short story (I dare you not to turn around, even if your back is against a wall or chair) followed by an invitation to skip the introduction at about the page most intro-readers might begin to move on, anyway (page 6 1/2). As with Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things, Trigger Warning’s introduction offers a snippet intro for each of Gaiman’s short stories, so if you skip around his collection, you can flip back to the beginning to gain the insight you may or may not know you actually need.
As with Gaiman’s other collections, Trigger Warnings’s introductions are delightful, revealing the author’s vulnerability and humanity, reading much like Odysseus’s witty travel log of real places and real people (that is, if Odysseus had a travel log, read novels and short stories, and also owned a Blackberry). The introduction is not, however, a guided tour to understanding the story or poem. The stories speak for themselves, as good literature should.
Final plea: If nothing else, read the introduction because it praises the people who have helped Neil Gaiman’s work become, and who have shaped fiction in all forms. Plus, you don’t want to end up on Charlie Manx’s naughty list (yes, different author, but this is my review and I will reference all the literary heroes and monsters I like).
I do not wish this to be a long homage to any authors, however, so I will drop the Fight Club rule book gimmick and move on.
“Making A Chair”
It’s a poem. Gaiman tells us not to be frightened by the prospect of poems existing. I will admit I was afraid of poems for a very long time. I didn’t understand them and I thought they were only meant for super smart people. Then I read one aloud. Afterward, I decided I had to understand why the poem sounded that way when I read it aloud. Illumination. Read this one aloud. Feel free to laugh. Reading poetry and laughing are exercises for the soul. They are also good ways to begin a collection.
“A Lunar Labyrinth”
The story with the ending. A common theme in the collection. It seems like a normal short story with normal characters. Normal settings and superstitions. Then, as the moon rises, the superstitions become real, along with the stakes. Run.
“The Thing About Cassandra”
The thing about Neil Gaiman….
The thing about Neil Gaiman is that he leads you down a normal path–one you’ve been down before with many others (“The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is like a lovechild of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, if such comparisons can be made), where you are lulled into a sense of safety and you believe what has happened before will happen again. But then the light fades away and you find that the path you were on was not real. None of it was real. The real was illusion. You are Alice and the world has slipped away, but that other world was unreal, anyhow, so what does it matter? When reading Gaiman’s stories, I know something isn’t quite right, but the wrong feels more authentic than any alternative, and Gaiman’s shoes, which are slightly too big, but comfortable all the same, fit so much better than the tight shoes of reality. I find when I read his stories I enjoy the flipped world. I want to stay there, even withstanding the occasional nightmare characters and ideas (sometimes facing yourself is the biggest nightmare).
Not much more needs to be said. I could go through the rest of the stories, write an homily for Trigger Warning–which I could–but such a task would be unnecessary. Take Gaiman’s hand. He’s an expert guide–an expert at taking your mind to places it has never been, and perhaps never knew it wanted to go. He doesn’t need to show you the map. You’ll get to where you need to be, and you’ll be changed in the process.