Fragile Things contains just accurately the kind of stories that one would expect Neil Gaiman to write — adolescent fantasy tales that occasionally manage to make hesitant, cautious steps across the border into adult Gothic (but never quite cross over). Fantasy, but lyric fantasy, not epic, and semi-grounded in modern reality: there are no hobbits here, and almost all these tales concern fantastic elements that seem to have somehow brushed up against reality, rather than the reverse.
This quirky collection of short stories is something like a mixtape front-loaded with some good material, some not-so-good. Thus, if this book had ended on page 112, I would have been quite satisfied. The interstitial “poems” aside (which Gaiman essentially apologizes for in the author’s notes), the stories up to that point range from interesting to insipid. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic run of storytelling; it somehow keeps you turning the pages and jumping to the next story, and somehow I was disappointed to see it end.
If you like Neil Gaiman’s other works (I’ve only previously read Neverwhere, excerpts from Anansi Boys and another short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors), you’ll like these stories; if you don’t, you probably won’t; if you don’t know whether you do or not, but you’re curious enough to read because everyone you know seems to have read him, then this collection provides a legitimate place to start.
I would like to point out flaws, not because the collection is flawed, or because any of these flaws are significant in comparison with the compelling nature of the stories, but because the stories are considerably good that a list of their virtues would become boring, like “this story is the best story about this thing since Neil Gaiman’s last story about this thing.”