Neil Gaiman’s most recent collection of short stories is calculated to chill to the bone. The collection is appropriately titled Trigger Warning. Triggers, Gaiman says in the introduction, refer to “those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane, world into a place much more dark and less welcoming.” So, beware. The book is chock full of stories that would do well at a summer camp for adults, sitting around the campfire, engaged in a friendly competition to frighten each other to jelly before bedtime.
All the stories but one were originally published between 2008 and 2013 and they are the cream of the Gaiman crop. It was lovely to revisit old favorites. I had to sleep several nights with the lights on (again) after reading “Click-Clack the Rattlebag,” one of my spooky favorites. I read “Orange” aloud to my teen children. Told in the style of an interview, it is the story of a teen girl who really may have become something like the center of the universe. My fourteen-year-old son laughed so hard that milk came out his nose (yes really—don’t read Gaiman aloud while your children are eating breakfast!). His sixteen-year-old sister didn’t see what was so funny.
With Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing, Gaiman’s story “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” has taken on a deeper poignancy. The story begins with the line “I am forgetting things, which scares me.” It continues on, a meditation on memory, stories and what happens when authors are forgotten, even by those trying to remember them.
The new piece, written especially for this collection, revisits the character of Shadow Moon from American Gods. “Black Dog” is a good long satisfying story. I deeply enjoyed American Gods and it was lovely to go and live in Shadow’s world again, this time extended to England. It is lovely, as well, to see a virtuoso like Gaiman improvise anew on the themes of myth, death and the timey-wimey vortex of a present steeped in the past.
I could go on and on. There is something for every imagination—not to mention every trigger—in this collection. Underneath the stories lie the most human fear of all—death, yes, but more than death, the fear of disappearance so complete that one might never have existed at all. The fear of being completely forgotten. And for the living, the cost of forgetting the dead and the past is very high. But not to worry. At the end of “Black Dog” one of the characters explains a riddle that has been floating through the narrative from the beginning and concludes: “ ‘In the midst of death, as it were, life just keeps on happening.’ Shadow thought about the matter for a little while, and told her that he guessed that it probably did.”