Story Pile: Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning

It is
reasonable
to suggest
That Neil Gaiman is skilled
his words and choices are artful
he can construct a scene
give a character a voice
and has the capacity
to see that point
at which a story
will probably
be boring
and
stop

*

I first remember speaking of Gaiman to a friend as one of the two names on my new favourite book, Good Omens. She was enthusiastic about his words, about his prose, as headily woven around us while she read from the page she held in one hand as the scent of wine and cigarettes from her endless procurement. The Tori Amos song that mentioned him, the line, the mention of the book, of Snow Glass Apples spilling out across the evening while she spoke to me of the importance of it, the gravity of it, of his exquisite and breathtaking prose, his word choice, his ideas.

She loaned me Snow Glass Apples, that night, and I read it all by the next week. I did not sleep with her, but for the conventions of genre, let us pretend that I had, and it was somehow tragic.

*

a compilation
is a text of texts
it
represents
an academics’ natural state
of a collection of thoughts
somehow disconnected
but linked at the same time
by an author
or a journal
or a compendium
or a meme

*

“Plays with the form,” I said. “You know, you can do a lot of different styles of storytelling that way?”

“Sure,” I said, as I watched the dog crawl from one soft resting space to another, only half paying attention. “So that’s why it’s good?”

“Well, I dunno,” I said, as I waited for the dog to inevitably ask to be helped under a blanket in the new resting spot. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call them good.”

“Are they bad then?” I was really circling around something here, and it was starting to annoy me.

“They’re not bad, either. They’re just…” It was there, on the tip of my tongue.

“They’re juuuust?” I said, trying to invoke myself to finally say it.

“… Basic.”

*

it was a slender little book in a plastic jacket, because of course little kids would let it get messy; its cover bright green, showing a mummy that was kind of coloured like neon snot, with a pair of glowing pink or purple eyes, and the name on the cover said that it was part of a group, an anthology, kind of, of short stories called Goosebumps, and when I looked inside the cover, I saw a long line of names, dozens of dozens of stories, each one a book so small as I’d demolish it in a few hours after school were I not too afraid to ever consider asking to borrow it, not in my little short pants and uniform shirt that marked me as one of those weird kids who went to the weird school, and who walked up to the library doors, swinging our hands together and singing odd hymns about the coming of the lord and the world being cleaned by fire, no, the book was not to be read, not to be considered, because it was from the outside, and it was clearly, clearly, radiating a dreadful kind of energy

*

Gerard Geanette
A french author
(and Bibliophile)
described once
the idea of
Paratext.

The boundaries of a book
when it existed
but had not yet precisely
begun
its cover, its jacket, its paper
its title

things that were chosen
to make the book the book
but yet not the story
not the text
the liminal space
between existing
and not

the story’s noontime shadow
itself and yet nothing of it

*

Neil Gaiman can be as coy as he likes in the prologue, he’s clearly a dipshit who doesn’t understand what a trigger is, let alone a trigger warning. This book of completely acceptable and rather mundane horror stories could have been reframed as a Goosebumps Speedrun and proven to be quite excellent, all short stories carrying pith and not trying to overreach his means as a storyteller.

Instead, it was called Trigger Warning, and in so doing, it left me expecting that Neil had decided to stray into the transgressive spaces of actual triggering content, of those things that bring about the pain and stress of PTSD. The harrowing horror of being suddenly, suddenly, amidst a normal conversation, sitting on that black-and-orange patterned carpet as down below, the car door slams shut through wood and boundaries and you know that you now have to wait to find out if you’re going to be beaten and someone says something and you blink and you’re not there, you’re here, and you’re in both places at once and you’re trying to regather the thread of your own life and stop time fracturing in your head.

But it’s not.

It’s Neil Gaiman Doesn’t Understand Trigger Warnings. And because he put that label on a book of horror stories – stories that feature cannibalism and drowning and murder and attempts at ontological horror – it only makes the horror he’s penned look pedestrian and quaint. He writes in the prologue about the stories, and the challenge of creating them and how he found one of them and wonders if he was haunted by it and all of it rings so false. So hollow.

Because Neil Gaiman seems to think that being a bit creeped out is what a trigger is.

And he can go fuck himself.

*

I returned Snow, Glass, Apples to her as soon as I could. I recommended it. I liked it a lot. And there were more afternoons of her wine and her cigarettes and her crying about her problems, and more afternoons of me trying, trying to be a good friend, to try and help her become Less Not Okay.

I was not a good friend. I tried a lot, but I wasn’t good at it. I wanted to help but I didn’t know how to help.

And when she tried to explain to me post-traumatic stress disorder, I didn’t understand what she had to say.

Because I thought that’s how everyone’s memories worked.

*

The stories are pretty good, if you can get the book second hand I recommend it.

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