Creepy, melancholy short stories from the mid-20th-century master who wrote an estimated 22 episodes of The Twilight Zone.
These stories recall a more innocent America, when honeymooners sailed to Europe on grand old ocean liners, and when Dr. Silk, the Magic Man, could drive across the prairie in his wagon mesmerizing small towns with his card tricks and selling out of his harmless patent medicine. It was also a less innocent America, when the Magic Man could convince his rapt audience that his African-American assistant was really the enslaved prince of a cannibal island, or when a young man could use a potion to get into the pants of all 563 women on Earth with his ideal qualifications (such as the right bust-waist-hip measurements) and run up against no thornier ethical problem than the occasional jealous husband. In a typical Beaumont story, a madman’s delusion turns out to be true, waking a dreamer makes the whole world vanish, or the madman howling in a monastery’s darkest cell really is the devil. Beaumont celebrates the American landscape in prose that’s often lyrical, if not quite as magically rich as that of his friend and contemporary Ray Bradbury, whose 1981 introduction is included in this collection. The actor William Shatner, who wrote the book’s Afterword, describes Beaumont’s early death from a form of dementia as “like a science fiction story he would have written. Charlie Beaumont, wonderful, active, virile, creative writer, dies of old age in his thirties.”
Each with its satisfying twist, often surprisingly surprising, these stories charm and entertain while mapping out the landscape of (white, male) American anxieties in the middle of the last century.