There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

First and second thoughts: The October Country by Ray Bradbury (1955).

....probably Bradbury is best thought of as a fabulist, a teller of moral tales. His morals tend to extrude, but doubtless he has done his audience much good, here and abroad. Like many other
science fantasists, he is a belated apostle of the Enlightenment.

     -Harold Bloom

The October Country by Ray Bradbury (1955).

I've avoided reading Bradbury for four decades. Not for want of opportunity, either. One day my mother came home from the school where she taught with a bunch of ragged 1960s-era Bantam paperbacks. I read the first few paragraphs of most stories, but could not push forward. (Such a body of work seemed unsavory and unserious to my 14 year old self in 1980.)

Bradbury always struck me as being inauthentic (whatever I thought that word meant at the time) and a little too fey by half. Bradbury seemed to embrace his own P.R. The maudlin and soapy sentimentality of tales like "Uncle Einar" was too much to an adolescent reader deep in Lovecraft and Stephen King.

The jejune fabulism looked like a commercial angle that had taken over an individual aesthetic consciousness and smothered it.

Is cultivation of a prepubescent appraisal of the world mere saccharine for the palate of readers frantically craving retreat and emotional shelter under the propaganda onslaught of Cold War and political witch-hunting?

Bradbury's post-war career amalgamates the above trends of rightward and depoliticizing shifts in U.S. popular culture. The hungry writer in 1940s Los Angeles by 1960 could present his aesthetic as unquestionably authentic because "child-like."

(Of course another word for child-like is immature.)

After reading The October County for the first time this week, I found my long-standing apprehensions were out of proportion to the tales themselves.

A few story notes:

The Dwarf
The biter bit (or smooshed).

The Next in Line
A superior story, probably the strongest in the book in terms of scene-building and characterization. A potent depiction of psychological disintegration.

The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse
A respectable bourgeois gentleman finds himself the goat of a bunch of bohemians. But his everyday philistinism is more than a matcher for these hipsters as they come to embrace (ironically) his banal lifestyle. But, as Trotsky once wrote about this milieu in another context, jumping over one's own head is harder than one think.

A droll story about a hypochondriac obsessed by the discovery of his own skeleton. Fine portrait of young married life, too.

The Jar
A superior weird tale about a pickled something in a jar that is all things to all people.

The Lake
"The Kingdom By the Sea." Beautiful.

The Emissary
Middle age men be warned: I wept like a child while finishing this one. There is real narrative power here, free of sentimentality, but not emotion.

Touched with Fire
Recalls the "folk" fables of L.P. Hartley. Metaphors turn within themselves. A little too much grasping after art? Perhaps, but what else is ambition for?

The Small Assassin
A plot reminiscent of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or "Tales of the Unexpected." Except no hint of the sardonic distancing, no Biercean rancor or misanthropy. Bradbury creates a compelling young married couple, and then pulls them apart. Piece by piece.

The Crowd
The dead hate the living.

Another tightly would mechanism, a cut-up that falls short.

The Scythe
A stunning story. Glossing the plot does not approach really confronting its narrative power.

Uncle Einar
A relapse into mere Bradburyism. The so-called Elliott Family saga must have seemed to the author like a sure thing: an uncanny Indiana Yoknapatawpha County, filled with drama and glossy magazine cleverness. It certainly personifies writerly self-satisfaction that in lesser hands might degenerate into narcissism.

The Wind
A powerful horror story with a striking conceit. The tension between male friendship and married life is well-handled.

The Man Upstairs
Reverse of the medal of "The Emissary."

There Was an Old Woman
A writer's-writer outing: a tour de force of dialogue, indirection, and understatement. Aunt Tildy is not easily forgotten.

The Cistern
"It just came to me. There's actually a city under a city. A dead city, right here, right under our feet."

Another Elliott Family tale. Every adolescent writer falls in love with their own adolescent protagonist/stand-in. This story is how Holden Caulfield would see himself after reading too much Charles Addams. Self-pity turned up to 11.

The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone
Writers... get a real job!

10 October 2018

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