Forgotten or mislaid short fictions from a master who’s given us better, but also much worse.
Bradbury (Let’s All Kill Constance, 2002, etc.) says here that after the death of his wife, Maggie, he lost, for the first time in decades, the will or ability to write: a shocking statement from this almost comically prolific writer. Fortunately, the spell passed, and Bradbury continues to pounce on every little germ of an idea he sees. This is a collection like many of Bradbury’s recent ones, a hodgepodge of mostly realistic stories that occasionally dabble in magic, though there are more of the everyday kind, with precious little of the highly adventurous and moralistic science fiction that put Bradbury in the literary firmament. Happily, though, while several pieces are new, a good part of the book is made up of long-forgotten and unpublished selections from the author’s most fecund period, the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some entries are overwrought racial allegories, like “Chrysalis,” where a white boy finds he’s discriminated against just as much as his black friend when he gets a serious suntan. A more successful attempt is “The Transformation,” about a southern man who’s kidnapped in the middle of the night by some circus people out to avenge his complicity in a disgusting crime (hint: one of them is a tattooist). One newer story, a fling of media-addled satire, “The John Wilkes Booth/Warner Brothers/MGM/NBC Funeral Train,” makes an earnest leap at the modern world’s penchant for regurgitating the past for commercial ends, although it falls apart in a ramshackle fashion. A genuine a work of art, however, is “The Island,” a perfect bit of shadowy horror about a paranoid family in a remote house, each member fully armed in his own locked room, and what happens when an intruder enters: truly haunting, lit with a dark insight.
Bradbury on autopilot, mostly, mixing dashes of beautiful whimsy with gold-tinged nostalgia and the occasional sharp stab of pain.