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By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, January 10, 1999

A novel by Neil Gaiman
Published by Spike/Avon, 256 pages, $22

Neil Gaiman is considered one of the "Top Ten Post-Modern Writers in America" by the compilers of the "Dictionary of Literary Biography," a baffling honor indeed. It's difficult to see, really, what Gaiman is supposed to have in common with such writers as Thomas Pynchon or William Burroughs. The hallmark of post-modernism, it seems to me, is that the reader must struggle like a canoeist paddling against the current just to find a meaning in the stream of words flowing by.

Gaiman, by contrast, is always easy to read. Sometimes sparse, sometimes witty, often lyrical, his prose is as smooth as 12-year-old Scotch. Like writer Ray Bradbury, most of Gaiman's stories deal, in one way or another, with the fantastic, the unbelievable. Again like Bradbury, the sheer poetry of his writing is a big part of how he makes us believe it.

"Stardust" is a traditional fairy tale - sort of. The brief sex scene early in the book is a nod to modernism, but on the whole it follows a path that manages to be expected and surprising all at once. We know when Tristran Thorn promises Victoria Forester to find a fallen star and bring it back to her that things are not going to turn out the way he thinks they will. But we may be surprised, nonetheless, at the details of Tristran's adventures, which begin and end in Victorian England but mostly take place in another world.

Gaiman has done more serious works, such as the "Sandman" comics series that Norman Mailer called "a comic strip for intellectuals." But for the sheer poetry and music of the language, this is his finest work yet.

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