Good Boys Deserve Favors by Neil Gaiman

It’s day 2 of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, and I’m mixing things up with a little bit of Gaiman. I found this short story in his anthology, Fragile ThingsI’ll be honest: I’ve read this story before and remember enjoying it, but I could not for the life of me remember what it was about. My initial thought was that it must not have been a very good story then.

So with low expectations, I gave it another read, and about five minutes later (it’s quite a short one), I remembered why I liked it. This is a very different sort of story from The Euphio Question by Kurt Vonnegut, which I read yesterday. It seems to me that they offer entirely different things. In The Euphio Question, Vonnegut had something he wanted impress upon the reader. He put forth a perspective on the nature of happiness and left the reader to puzzle over philosophical matters, like whether or not happiness can ever be excessive. Good Boys Deserve Favors, on the other hand, doesn’t probe into any such matters. It’s quick and light and inconsequential. It doesn’t say as much, and the substance of the story doesn’t make as strong an impact on me as a reader, but in giving those things up, Gaiman gives it this pleasant mixture of authenticity and realism. It feels less like a story one might find in a book and more like an amusing experience one friend might recount to another over a few beers.

I’m going to skip the summary this time. It’s such a quick read that any concrete details I share will just ruin the fun for you. I’m still figuring out how exactly I’d like to structure these posts. Or if I want any sort of consistent structure at all. We’ll see.

Here’s a passage that I want to share:

“He had never married. Good double bass players, he told me, were men who made poor husbands. He had many such observations. There were no great male cellists – that’s one I remember. And his opinion of viola players, of either sex, was scarcely repeatable” (Gaiman 128).

It sounds simple now that I’m writing it, but it occurs to me that a reader can learn a lot, very quickly, about a character through the advice that he or she gives. Just the same, a storyteller can share a great deal of information about a character in their reaction to that advice. This is particularly useful to me because I tend to be rather hamfisted with the way I describe my characters to my readers. It’s a good way to characterize people without telegraphing to the reader that you’re, well, characterizing people.

Aside from that, if there’s one thing I’d like to take away from this read, it would be this: a story doesn’t need to have profound messages or complex plots to be worth the reader’s time. Sometimes, a story without much substance to it can stand on the merits of its voice. To me, that’s just as impressive.

Anyways, would I recommend this story? Absolutely. It’ll take you 5 minutes and while it won’t leave you with any meaty questions to ponder over for the rest of the day, it’ll definitely leave you with a smile.

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