After the last issue of Sandman, I decided to take a break this week, but I didn’t go very far. Smoke and Mirrors, also by Neil Gaiman, is a collection of short stories, poems, and random stand-alones. There are 29 pieces in total, some are comical, some dark, others depressing. What Gaiman so masterfully epitomizes in this collection, is the concept of writing with a purpose. In High School, you probably read a bunch of short stories and were charged with “identifying the theme”; these stories remind me of those, only Gaiman does it right.
Standout works include Chivalry, the story of an elderly woman who purchases The Holy Grail from a thrift store, and places it on her mantelpiece. When Galaad (the purehearted knight of legend) shows up, horse and all, and tries to buy it from her, she refuses until he comes back regularly and keeps her company. It’s a sweet story that’s easy to read, but also comments on loneliness and materialism.
Another interesting piece is called Looking For The Girl, in which a man becomes obsessed with a 19-year old Penthouse model. He sees her in the magazine several times over the span of about 16 years, and she never ages. We watch the man’s life as it slowly becomes centered around her, until he finally meets and photographs her, and is reminded of his own mortality. This story contains slight pedophilic undertones, and seems, at first glance, to be a bit misogynistic, but in fact, it’s about the timelessness of beauty as contrasted by the fleeting human life. Or something deep like that.
Nicholas was… I think, is too poetic to be considered a prose piece, but isn’t written in any concrete meter, so I don’t know what to call it. It’s the brief story of a man who lives way up north in isolation, among dwarfish Arctic natives he doesn’t understand. Nicholas yearns for death, and compares this “punishment” of a life to that of Promethus, Judas, and Loki. The ending reveals Nicholas’ true identity, and had me laughing out loud.
All in all, Smoke and Mirrors is highly readable and entertaining. I could see it being the perfect book to throw in your bag and read on the bus because each story is short enough to get through in 15 minutes, but entrancing enough to think about all day.