At last—a book you can judge by its cover. For this one sports a wonderfully macabre illustration born of Charles Addams’s brief collaboration with master fantasist Bradbury, best known for such classic fiction as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
First conceived in 1945 (as a disarming afterword informs us) and only recently finished, this volume records the return appearance of “the October people,” an otherworldly family initially encountered in Bradbury’s early short story “Homecoming.” They hail from ancient Egypt and Old Europe and have levitated in a hinterland between life and death for lo, these many centuries. Now ruefully aware that “the age of discovery and revelations” has rendered them obsolete, they take in a foundling named Timothy designated as the family’s historian (and this novel’s narrator). Timothy’s tale comprises an episodic succession of portraits of family notables, including its rather portentous matriarch (“A Thousand Times Great Grandmère”); visionary Cecy, who can “inhabit” the bodies and souls of various human, animal, and inanimate objects; Uncle “John the Unjust”; and (most amusing of them all) winged Uncle Einar, whose trafficking with humans creates numerous aerodynamic problems. (Whenever he falls to earth, he makes a sound “like a huge telephone book dropped from the sky.”) They all eventually succumb to the indifference of a world disinclined to believe they exist (an interesting parallel here to Neil Gaiman’s current American Gods, p. 682), and Timothy—a reverse Pinocchio who yearned to become an unreal boy—realizes he must after all live in a fallen, unimaginative world where relatives don’t fly or influence the thoughts of rocks and stones and trees.
A far cry from the great early stories, but filled with a nostalgic charm that vitiates Bradbury’s notorious rhetorical laxness and sentimentality. One of his most attractive and satisfying works in quite some time.