My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many of us who believe that true magic lies in stories know and love Gaiman for his work on Sandman. Sandman itself was built of stories. That was a large part of the wonder of it. But it was still an epic, and I had never gotten around to exploring Gaiman’s short stories.
I’ve had the goal of doing so for a long time, especially as Gaiman is known as a huge fan and protégé of my very favorite crafter of short stories, Gene Wolfe. (In fact, the only time I’ve ever met the two of them in person they were interviewing each other at a Chicago Humanities Festival event several years ago.) I haven’t had much time for reading fiction lately though, so this was a low-priority, long-term goal.
But then my wife brought this book home from the library, and I had a lazy Saturday. And M for Magic is definitely a Saturday book. It’s a single-day read. Don’t take it along for a week’s getaway by the lake (or at least, don’t take only it along). These stories are quick, lovely, and melt-in-your mouth. I could say other things as well. I could say they were dreamlike (as you would expect from Gaiman), haunting, gorgeous, and practically flawless. But I might sound a bit gushy, something I try to avoid.
This particular anthology was built out of stories Gaiman chose for young-adult audiences, but they don’t feel like kids’ stories. This is part of Gaiman’s art, which he has used to good effect in works like his movie Coraline or his children’s book Wolves in the Walls: the ability to tap into some of the things that make childhood filled with equal parts wonder and fear.
There are a lot of voices echoing around in the corners of this anthology. The title is a self-admitted tip of the hat to Bradbury, whose voice haunts works like “October in the Chair” and “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (which holds the only whiff of science fiction in what is an otherwise straight fantasy collection). Lafferty is clearly laughing through the background of “Sunbird,” one of my favorites in the anthology. And there are strains of Beagle’s Fine and Private Place throughout the longest story in the batch, “The Witch’s Headstone.”
Not to say any of this work is derivative. It is not. We all build our stories on the backs of what we’ve read and loved. And there are pieces in here that are completely unique, with a voice of cats and railroad beds and England and magic that is Gaiman himself, un-distilled, as in “Troll Bridge,” “Chivalry,” and “The Price.” With the exception of the first, bumpy story in this work, nothing here disappointed. All of my other “to read” Gaiman anthologies just climbed up a notch on my list.
If you need a breath of fresh air, and you want to open a window in your skull letting in a breeze on which the metallic tang of rain and the heavy scent of graveyard flowers are mingled, read this book.