Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Summary from Goodreads:

"The distinctive storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman has been acclaimed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. Now in this new collection of stories--several of which have never before appeared in print and more than half that have never been collected--that will dazzle the senses and haunt the imagination. 

Miraculous inventions and unforgettable characters inhabit these pages: an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail in a second-hand store...a frightened little boy who bargains for his life with a troll living under a bridge by the railroad tracks...a stray cat who battles nightly against a recurring evil that threatens his unsuspecting adoptive family. In these stories, Gaiman displays the power, wit, insight and outrageous originality that has made him one of the most unique literary artists of our day."

Smoke and Mirrors is a delightful collection of short stories and poems that are retellings of fairy tales and folklore of old. Reading it made me feel like a kid again, seeing a magic trick for the first time, and there is no grander magician than Neil Gaiman. He turns stock stories into new ones, more bewitching, more chilling and more surreal that it’s derivative. We get a mixture of horror, suspense, fantasy, and science fiction. What’s even better is that they all go beyond pure entertainment because they reflect (like mirrors) a human condition or a state of the world, whether past, present or future. It has stories about technology, sex, Aids, medical drug development, life in Hollywood, the birth and end of the world. There are those stories that cast new light on vampires, werewolves, Santa Claus, Snow White and The Evil Queen.  

I feel like I have too many favorites. And I am only going to cover a few at length. Here they are:

1. Murder Mysteries - This is a story about the angel Raguel, also called The Vengeance of God, tasked to solve the mysterious death of an angel from Silver City. I love how haunting and suspenseful this story is. It touches on the good and evil, birth and fall, love and jealousy. It also lives up to it's title. Right until the very end, I still found the whole story as enigmatic as when I started it.

2. Snow, Glass, Apples - Pop culture is steeped in quite a number of Snow White retellings. And just when I thought I've seen and heard them all, in comes Gaiman. He's take on it is pretty darned unique and fantastic. He did some reverse engineering where The Evil Queen becomes the protagonist and Snow White is no longer our sweet, innocent princess. It is just deliciously dark. Probably like that poison apple. :)

3. The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories- This one is about an author who comes to Hollywood in order to pen the script for a movie adaptation of his book. I took a liking to this because it reminds me a bit of the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink, and because I love movies. It's a bit of a biting commentary on Hollywood's commercialism. But what I loved about it is how it tackled memory. Here's a particular quote I loved. "He says they (goldfish) only got a memory that’s like thirty seconds long. So they swim around the pool, it’s always a surprise to them, going ‘I never been here before.’ They meet another fish they known for a hundred years, they say, ‘Who are you, stranger?"

4. We can Get them for you Wholesale - Because we all love a good bargain. And in the midst of one, we can't seem to remember that Latin phrase: "caveat emptor."

Then there's Troll Bridge and Only the End of the World Again, and so many more really. I think this may just be my favorite Neil Gaiman book to date.


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