Review – Trigger Warning

Cover of Trigger Warning by Neil GaimanTrigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

It’s difficult to rate a book of short stories, for me. They can be so different from each other, so that one is totally to your taste and another is not. Throw in some poetry too, and there’s even more opportunity to leave people cold (I don’t know many people who aren’t picky about poetry). So the good, first: this is pretty typically Gaiman’s work, wry and dark and twisted, rich with implications and things lurking in the shadows. His stories all flow well, so that it all leads logically on to the ending (which is not to say that the endings are predictable, though familiarity with Neil Gaiman’s imagination might give you a pretty good idea).

The bad: I did find it a mite too familiar. That might partially be because I read the introductions to each story first — always something of great interest to me, but it does flavour how you’re going to experience the story. Secondly, Neil Gaiman’s poetry pretty much doesn’t do it for me. And thirdly, the opinions on “trigger warnings”, from which Gaiman took his title, were… fairly typically as though he had not actually discussed them with anyone. I’m a big advocate for them, and I think most quibbles against them are nonsense; sure, life itself doesn’t have trigger warnings. And? Why should that stop us from giving other people notice when we can? “Here be bad things” is something, but triggers are so different for different people… Stick a label on the story like you do nutrition information on food: not everyone will read it, but those who can benefit from the additional knowledge and preparation. And not “this product may contain nuts, soy or dairy products”, but “this product does contain nuts” or “this product was manufactured in a factory which also processes nuts”. Actual, precise information about common triggers. It’s not going to cover every eventuality, and we can’t pretend it will, but it would make sense to try.

And not just by saying “these stories end badly for at least one person in them”.

All in all, that sounds very critical. I did enjoy reading the stories, though, and I think Gaiman does clever things with the form. I’m just a bit too used to his kind of cleverness.

Rating: 4/5

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14 thoughts on “Review – Trigger Warning

  1. I’m less enthusiastic about this one because of its advertisement of stories being “dark” and “disturbing”. I tend to enjoy Neil’s lighter stuff or the dark stuff that stays away from sexual violence and abuse. He has written far too many of those stories for my taste, and while well written, I never find anything of value in them. That being said, I bought it right away on Tuesday and will be diving into it soon. I like a lot of authors, but have yet to find anyone who crafts stories that grab hold of me the way Neil’s do, or I should say in the same “way” that Neil’s do.

  2. Seriously awesome review. Love the way you’ve phrased things here.

    I’m a bit confused about the title (and… not all that happy with it). Like you, I believe trigger warnings are useful & like getting a heads-up where necessary. But I thought Gaiman was just using the title as a tasteless gimmick – a way of saying his stories were thrilling & edgy, rather than staying his stories should actually come with warnings attached. Did I misunderstand?

    • I think he was using it in a gimmicky way either way, and I didn’t like his introduction which totally minimised what trigger warnings are and what they’re useful for. By my definition, no, I don’t think the stories needed trigger warnings, except maybe one or two.

      • Given the serious, and sometimes disturbing nature of stories Gaiman has written, I don’t think the title was a gimmick, I think it was thoughtfully used, inspired by feedback he has gotten for his work in the past. Gaiman is immensely popular, and his earliest popular work, Sandman, was designated to be for a mature audience, in a medium, comics, that was before that time largely still seen as being for kids. I think he and others at the time pushed that mold, often by including some very disturbingly adult things. He has also been very outspoken in his feelings about what children can handle, subject matter-wise, etc. and I think he was hinting at that with his Trigger Warning title. Given how involved he is in supporting causes, etc. I don’t believe he was in any way being flippant about the gravity that the words “trigger warning” convey.

        Just my opinion.

        By the way, read the introduction on Saturday and was reminded again why I love his work so much. He so expertly articulates the way I have always felt about short fiction. I also love how he shares what inspired him for each story and in so doing gives us several other authors/books to try.

        I’m four stories in and am loving it thus far.

        • Thanks for sharing. As a person who has participated in a lot of discussions about trigger warnings, and a person who somewhat needs them — or needed them at least — I don’t think he took it particularly seriously. He used the ‘life doesn’t have trigger warnings’ argument, for example; that’s basic 101 discussion of trigger warnings. He mentioned things that happen in these stories as requiring trigger warnings, when some do and some obviously don’t. And, however serious the actual phobia is, mentioning one person with a serious fear of tentacles (if I recall rightly) is one of those examples that automatically makes people knee jerk against the whole idea. The idea of trigger warnings is that they cover common triggers, not one-offs.

          • It will be very interesting to see if any feedback like this gets to him and what his thoughts of it are. I’m certainly not arguing with you. Having read interview after interview, and blog post after blog post, I still have a hard time believing he used it flippantly unless he did so in ignorance (which is not excusing him). He has not proven himself to be insensitive in the past.

            Then again, as I often find myself saying to my employees about things during disciplinary meetings, it isn’t just “Intent” that matters, it is how what you did/said (in this case wrote) is “perceived” that you have to be cognizant of. It is certainly very possible that it wasn’t a well thought out title in regards to what he might be conveying both by it and by his writings in the introduction. After all, I didn’t have a positive reaction to the title myself, worrying that I was about to read a collection of stories filled with the kind of subject matter for which the phrase “trigger warning” first came into being. I have very good reasons for not wanting my fiction to be populated with sexual abuse/rape/violence, child molestation and abuse, etc….that is part of my every day world as a mental health professional. I rarely find it meaningful in fiction..FOR ME. I truly believe that a well-written story, short or long, can help others cope, open the eye of those who, on purpose or in ignorance, are turning a blind eye to the horrors in the world, etc. It just isn’t what I’m comfortable reading for entertainment, which is what I turn to fiction for, first and foremost.

            Sorry, chased that rabbit down a hole.

            At any rate, I hope what I wrote initially didn’t come off as if I was discounting what you were feeling about the book. I’m just not willing personally to say with authority that he used the title lightly, as the evidence of the introduction has to be weighed against the evidence of what he has supported, said, done over the course of his life and what he might have to say about reader reaction to his title/introduction. I am very willing to agree that it was a poorly chosen title that takes away, or at least has the potential to take away, from the impact of his stories.

            • Knowing Gaiman and his sincerity, I doubt he used it in a deliberately problematic way. It’s just that it doesn’t feel as though he really engaged with other people on the subject (or other people outside his immediate circle) before using it.

          • I did a bit of digging, and didn’t find anything (yet) about negative reaction to the title, although I suspect there is more and more will come. I did find it interesting that my assumption of what “trigger warning” means, which has always been closer to this description:

            http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Trigger_warning

            is not the only, and perhaps not even the first, meaning to the phrase. I’ve noted at least one other professional reviewer uses the much more generic definition here:

            http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/trigger-warning

            tying it to something that arose from teachers wanting fiction labeled for student consumption.

            I would ignore looking at the Urban Dictionary definition…it is the kind of all-knowing opinion that shows just how insensitive some are to the subject(s) of the first definition.

            We use “trauma triggers” in the work environment, which I think is a little more specific and accurate.

              • That makes sense, and there is definitely a difference, especially here as we try to not overuse the word “trauma”, which is becoming a big buzzword in mental health right now, so as not to rob it of its efficacy.

                • Yeah; sometimes I think the idea of triggers is a bit too… dilute, even in fandom where there’s generally someone who explains that it’s meant to cover things that make you more than “a bit uncomfortable”. Like, distaste about a trope is not a trigger, people; things that make me hide under my desk hyperventilating are triggers!

                  I’m fighting a losing battle there, though.

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