Skip to main content

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances


Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Authors as prolific, successful and admired as Neil Gaiman don't really need to explain their choices in storytelling or editing. But in his latest collection, TRIGGER WARNING, Gaiman lifts the veil just a bit for readers, giving them insight into his creative process and inspirations for these previously published “short fictions and disturbances.” Readers can peruse the introductory message for each piece before or after reading them, enriching their understanding and glimpsing details or connections they otherwise may have missed.

The short stories and poems in TRIGGER WARNING are diverse --- from fairy tales retold to traditional horror, from folktales to sci-fi, and lots in between. There is something for every type of Gaiman fan here, and those new to his work will find this to be a solid introduction to the type of stories he crafts: lyrical, literary, sometimes quite chilling, and always strange and provocative. Each of these pieces is truly, as Gaiman says short fiction should be, a “small adventure.”

"Gaiman's skill is always apparent, and his creativity never fails to yield entertaining and thoughtful results.... This is a book to savor and enjoy, and it's perfect reading for the long cold days and nights of late winter."

Setting the tone is the first story, “A Lunar Labyrinth” (though it follows a lovely poem on writing titled “Making a Chair”), which has all the makings of a good spooky tale: a magical spot on an ancient hill, a huge moon shining on an enigmatic guide and a narrator full of questions. The story is mysterious and atmospheric like many in this collection. One of the longest stories, “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” is similarly dark and mythic in tone. It explores themes such as revenge and repentance, secrets and journeys. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” plays on the usual fears, like big old houses with dark attics and legends of monsters, but delivers a clever ending with a twist.

“The Thing About Cassandra” is less of a traditionally scary story but is disturbing nevertheless as Gaiman gambits with perspective and reality. Is Cassandra just the imaginary girlfriend Stuart made up in high school to impress his friends, or is Stuart really a figment of Cassandra's teenage imagination? In stories like “Jerusalem” characters are swept up and away by adventure, doubt, curiosity or magic. Delores, visiting the holy city with her husband, is overwhelmed with a feeling of love and sacredness. Returning home to London, both Delores and Morrison realize they are called back to Jerusalem by a powerful emotional force. Readers will be particularly happy to read “Black Dog,” the only previously unpublished work in this collection. It is a companion story to Gaiman's novel, AMERICAN GODS, written specifically for this book.

TRIGGER WARNING is full of many kinds of danger: physical, metaphysical, emotional and threats to reason or logic. All the dangers are frightening, yet Gaiman's writing is utterly compelling. The characters are searching, yearning and wrestling with secrets, yet their perspectives are not always reliable, which contributes to the wonderful tension Gaiman builds. In the title itself, he lets us know that we will be challenged by these tales. Despite the variety of styles and plots in this collection, the questions asked of the characters and, for that matter, the reader share several themes and an overarching tone of mystery, darkness, frustration and compelling beauty.

Of course, as with any short fiction collection, some pieces are more powerful and successful than others. But Gaiman's skill is always apparent, and his creativity never fails to yield entertaining and thoughtful results. The introduction, where we learn his own thoughts on the stories and some of his ideas about writing in general, is just as fun to read as the rest of TRIGGER WARNING. This is a book to savor and enjoy, and it's perfect reading for the long cold days and nights of late winter.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 6, 2015

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
by Neil Gaiman

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062330268
  • ISBN-13: 9780062330260