Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Neil Gaiman Made Me Cry (in the best possible way)

Earlier this month my son's school hosted "Movie Night." The best thing about Movie Night is my kids get to spend hours at school eating pizza, watching movies in their jammies and having pillow fights and from 6 until 9:30 pm my husband and I have the night off. This year we decided to go out to dinner. So how does Neil Gaiman figure into all of this, do you ask?

The restaurant doesn't take reservations. So when Matt left to drop the kids off at school and I went to get a table. While waiting for Matt to join me I was reading The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2013 edited by Paula Guran and The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by, you guessed it, Neil Gaiman. The story's main character is forgetting things and words, and people. He decides it is his task to remember one thing so God doesn't have to and if he fails in his task the thing vanishes. Ray Bradbury is his task. He says:

And I fear that I am going mad, for I cannot just be growing old. If I have failed in this one task, oh God, then only let me do this thing, that you may give the stories back to the world.
We get dementia stories, on average one or two a month, over the transom at Flash Fiction. Generally, these are told from the perspective of the caregiver. The few stories that tackle the tale from the victim's standpoint are often a mess.

Why did this story make me cry those slow silent tears that creep down your face when the pain's too pure and true for sobbing? The ones you don't know have escaped until they drip onto the table?

Let's give praise where it's due. Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. He manages to keep the necessary rambling when the character's mind drifts off point relevant and beautiful. But there was more to the why of being moved to tears.

Take it as a given that the story has lovely and heart breaking imagery. Take it for granted that you can hear Neil Gaiman's voice as you read the words. Take it for granted that the story didn't make the disease progression trite and treated the main character with dignity. Why did this this beautifully written story provoke such a visceral response from me?

Two reasons.

Neil Gaiman is good friends with Sir Terry Pratchett. Neil Gaiman was late to the 2013 World Fantasy Convention signing he's pictured in above because he had been out to dinner with Terry Pratchett. In 2006, Terry Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The literary community, heck, the world, reeled.  After all. if Terry Pratchett, who used his mind to create amazing worlds, could fall victim to Alzheimer's no one was safe. Because I know that the two men are close I felt like this one had been more than just a story to Neil Gaiman, that The Man Who Forgot was as much about losing Ray Bradbury in 2012 as it was about Terry Pratchett. Whether or not it was is irrelevant. I added an emotional layer to the story because of my supposition about the writer's motives. I'd also just seen Terry Pratchett and attended his interview at World Fantasy. I watched him struggle to find the words. And it broke my heart. And then I added another emotional layer to my reading experience.

My father suffers from Lewy Body Dementia. He was diagnosed in 2011 after my mother and I took him to a movement specialist. Unfortunately, my folks live in Florida so I can help out with his care as much as I would like. Still, in reading The Man Who Forgot I could see my father in the main character. Could see his struggles in the character's attempt to remember a word by coming at it sideways - thinking of book titles that contain the word to see if it will drop into place. Unfortunately, my Dad's dementia is progressing quickly.

The best stories, and this is one of them, touch our soul. We take more from them than the bare words. They give us a chance to address problems in our own lives through the thin veneer of fiction.

And that's why Neil Gaiman made me cry. And why I'm thankful to him for it.

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