Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Forgotten Books: The Stories of Ray Bradbury
For many writers my age, and I mean writers of all kinds, Ray Bradbury was responsible for our first encounter with stories as rich with language as they were the telling itself. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man became high school staples throughout the country. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Ways Comes became novels accessible and appreciated by young readers of every taste. He became sui generis for high school English departments looking for a good writer students would enjoy reading.
To celebrate Bradbury's long and imposing career Knopf has published The Stories of Ray Bradbury in its Everyman's Library series. Essentially the books gathers stories from each of Bradbury's various collections over the years. Thus we have some of his finest stories ever gathered from his first collection Dark Carnival as a starting point and follow him through the stylist changes he made over the years.
As much as I like Bradbury--I still have Martin Chronicles and Illustrated Man on my the shelf next to my desk--when A Medicine for Melancholy appeared I saw the first tonal and stylistic changes immediately. So did my friend Doug Humble. I still remember the gist of our conversation after we'd both finished the book. We didn't much care for these new stories. They seemed self-conscious--written. Say what you will about his pulp days, the graceful writing, the striking Thomas Wolfeian images, came natural and supported the tale at hand. But these stories...
I didn't give up on Bradbury. As this collection demonstrates he remained a fine storyteller his entire career. There are pieces here from the eighties that are just as dazzling as many of his tales from the fifties. But it's always seemed to me that he decided that he was a poet and that that interfered with his natural process. To me too much of his poetry is posy.
There's an introduction by Christopher Buckley that offers no new information or insight so we are left with the book itself. And not only is it beautifully made but just about every story here honors the Bradbury legend. In a very real sense he's been a key writer to writers and readers of at least three generations and this collection is the ultimate tribute.
One more thing: I wish people, Bradbury included, would stop saying he's not a very good novelist. Anybody who wrote Death is A Lonely Business and A Graveyard For Lunatics after a three-decade career as a fantastist is a FIRST-RATE novelist. And a major contributor to the noir canon as well. Don't forget one of his favorite writers has always been Cornell Woolrich.
Thanks for a lifetime of great reading, Ray.