The half-dozen readers in America who still believe that genre means something might see Gaiman as the English answer to Stephen King, and might classify these tales as fantasy, as horror, as science fiction - more broadly as "weird tales," descendants of queer English ghost stories from the early decades of the last century. As if to confound these readers, Gaiman starts off the collection with "A Study in Emerald," a Hugo-winning collision between the worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft. The story's narrator, a medical man who served with the British army in Afghanistan, neatly elides the difference between these two literary landscapes:
I shall not forget the mirrored surface of the underground lake, nor the thing that emerged from the lake, its eyes opening and closing, and the singing whispers that accompanied it as it rose, wreathing their way about it like the buzzing of flies bigger than worlds. (p. 2)
Like Stephen King, Gaiman shifts from the banal to the fantastic without grinding his gears, beginning with a conventional colonial military setting and ratcheting into the uncanny with ever-stranger details. Also like Stephen King, the sheer enjoyment of these stories obscures the author's love of and facility with language.
More than the supernatural, Gaiman concerns himself with the outsider. For all their gothic overtones, nothing much supernatural occurs in "Strange Little Girls" or "Pages From a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky," both published in Tori Amos tourbooks. Their characters exist in the near-liminal world, beyond the margins of polite society but close enough to see them wandering out there if you squint just right.
Gaiman's longer works engage far more than his shorter pieces do. In the latter, he so focuses on a conceit that he fails to dress it up, as in the clever but transparent "Other People." The longer the story, the more room Gaiman has to pull in the reader, to dress the set, and to build suspense. The final story in Fragile Things drives this point home.