Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review: The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories

PhotobucketNeil Gaiman didn’t have a good relationship with Hollywood the first time he set foot in it for the film adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s book, Good Omens. I found this out in The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, one of the longest and conceivably the best stories in the fic collection Smokes and Mirrors. It is both a quasi-account of personal experience (Gaiman admitted in the introduction that some of the story is true) and a metaphorically caustic commentary on the Hollywood system.

The story is about an English writer who goes to Hollywood to pen the movie treatment of his best-selling book, Sons of Man, which about the infamous serial killer Charles Manson. He encounters lots of contradictions and is forced to accept major changes in his book, while on the sideline he talks with the groundskeeper by the goldfish pool and writes stories about magic. Idioms abound, and there are several frame stories that blatantly mock stereotype movies that are more accepted and the movie industry as a whole:

“So the plot is, there’s this photographer who is persuading women to take their clothes off for him. Then he shtups them. Only no one believes he’s doing it. So the chief of police—played by Ms. Lemme Show the World My Naked Butt—realizes that the only way she can arrest him is if she pretends to be one of the women. So she sleeps with him. Now, there’s a twist…”

“She falls in love with him?”

“Oh. Yeah. And then she realizes that the women will always be imprisoned by male images of women, and to prove her love for him, when the police come to arrest the two of them she sets fire to all the photographs and dies in the fire. Her clothes burn off first. How does that sound to you?”

“Dumb.”
There are other frame narratives, but the most effective symbolism Gaiman used, I think, are the fish in the goldfish pool:

“….they [fish] only got a memory that’s like thirty seconds long. So they swim around the pool, it’s always a surprise to them, going ‘I never been here before.’ They meet another fish they known for a hundred years, they say, ‘Who are you, stranger?’”

I enjoyed reading this one for I related to the message Gaiman was trying to get across to his audience hands down. Even if it’s basically just a scathing remark for Hollywood, Gaiman inadvertently (or maybe purposely—this man’s too awesome a genius) embedded just beneath the thin layer of idioms and symbolisms a general image every kind of reader can identify themselves with: the real world, not just the real Hollywood. I was aware of that picture even before I got a hold of this book, and it was made clearer to me: some people demand what they want from you, use you not because you’re important but because you’re needed, and it’s up to you if you’ll let yourself be a marionette. In the end, if you made the right decision, you will certainly be happy, even if you lose something in the process.

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