Full disclosure: Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book) is one of those authors I would follow to the ends of the literary earth. If he published a phone book, I would read it knowing that he had put his own unique touch on the pages and that I would come away from it with a greater understanding of humanity.
Luckily, Trigger Warning is not a phone book, but a wonderful collection of “short fictions and disturbances." Gaiman admits that the collection is a hodge-podge of horror, ghost stories, science fiction, fairy tales, fabulism, and poetry. The collection features a number of well-known characters (Dr. Who, David Bowie, Sherlock Holmes, and Sleeping Beauty, to name a few) as well as a lot of characters one hopes to only encounter in the pages of a book. Fans of Gaiman’s award-winning American Gods will be happy to see a new story featuring Shadow, “Black Dog,” which was one of my favorites in the collection.
While the stories are quite varied in subject, Gaiman ties them all together with a thoughtfully written introduction. In it, he looks at the phrase “trigger warning” which originated as a way to warn people about content on the Internet that might trigger anxiety or other negative reactions for some readers/viewers. Then the concept began to expand into the “real world,” and colleges began discussing putting trigger warnings on certain works of literature and art. He ponders, “…Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?” Gaiman’s exploration of this idea is well considered and worth reading all on its own.
It is with these thoughts in mind that one can look at the stories in Trigger Warning not with an eye on the fantastical nature of the tales, but instead thinking about the truths we so often experience in fiction. For example, the imaginary high school girlfriend who later comes to life in “The Thing About Cassandra” may not seem like a story to which one can easily relate but the consequences of past lies and half-truths catching up to us is. This is where Gaiman truly shines, in taking the reality of everyday life and holding it up to a fun-house mirror, reflecting back at us a somehow truer sense of humanity.