READING: Neil Gaiman’s “The Wedding Present”

Some stories, no matter how many times you’ve read them, always leave you feeling different after. Neil Gaiman’s “The Wedding Present”, hidden in the introduction to “Smoke And Mirrors”, is one such story for me. Some thoughts about the short stories after the jump…

“Belinda stared into the fire for some time, thinking about what she had in her life, and what she had given up; and whether it would be worse to love someone who was no longer there, or not to love someone who was.”

In “The Wedding Present”, a picturesque couple uncovers a bizarre wedding present: a paper that shows them the horrible ways their marriage could have gone wrong. But when Belinda’s beloved husband dies young, she wonders whether it would be better to love him for a decade, or hate him for a lifetime, and tosses the  present into the flames.

Gaiman writes in the introduction to Smoke and Mirrors that the ending of “The Wedding Present” was different even than he’d intended when he’d begun it, that in the end it seemed the only way it could end. I agree wholeheartedly. You don’t see the train coming, but it hits you just as strongly. The entire story hinges on the question that doesn’t even seem like a question at the outset: this life, or that life? The ideal decade with the one you love, or many years by their side but filled with bitterness? And to this day, upon reaching the end, I’m never sure whether or not I would make a different choice than Belinda does.

Neil Gaiman is at his best when the flights of fancy that are hallmarks of his work are used to pose larger questions about life. “The Wedding Present” could have just been a cute, quirky fable about love, but ultimately asks: how much would you sacrifice for love? Happiness? Your life? Your child?

Though chosen to be a hidden gift to only those who read introductions, I feel like this story is a key piece of Gaiman’s writing, and I’m sad to consider the fact that most who love his writing – perhaps even most who’ve read this anthology – might have missed this gem. Its one of my favourites.

One response to “READING: Neil Gaiman’s “The Wedding Present”

  1. Thomas July 1, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I bought “Smoke and Mirrors” months ago, and only just got around to starting it tomorrow. It was the book I took to work, and I read the introduction during my first break, which included “The Wedding Present.”

    And I have been thinking about it all day. And will probably always have a couple of brain cells devoted to it now.

    That final sentence, that final choice, that final… leap off a cliff. It nearly broke my heart. I must have raised a few eyebrows, staring slack-jawed at a ratty old book while my co-workers looked on. The sheer desperation Belinda must have felt was stunning, and Gaiman evoked it perfectly. To love someone so intensely that you’d rather have them in your life but hate them… such a paradox, isn’t it? But when you love something that much, unlike the cliches or the fables, you don’t let them go. You do anything to keep hold of them… even sacrifice your own happiness.

    A masterful short story, and a testament to the man’s genius. Yeah, I know, a word overused to the point of parody nowadays, but whom else is worthy of the title?

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