Wednesday, September 3, 2008

From the Shelves of the Paco Library




As one of America’s most prolific authors of science fiction and fantasy, Ray Bradbury needs no introduction. I have to admit, though, that as much as I admire his flights of imagination in construing life on other planets, and in molding monsters and magicians and time machines on this one, it is his skill in portraying small-town America that has always appealed to me most; this is why Dandelion Wine is my favorite Bradbury novel. Few, if any, authors do small towns as well as Bradbury, whose ability to evoke the sights and sounds and customs of the rural hamlet and the self-contained suburb sets the reader down in a time and place that, in the author’s expert hands, becomes instantly familiar.

Today’s “Shelves” feature highlights a novel that was a bit of a departure by Bradbury in subject matter, but which nonetheless is shot through with his evocative genius. Death is a Lonely Business, set in 1949, is a homage to both the town of Venice, California, where Bradbury spent eight years of his life, and to the hard-boiled crime stories of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. The main character (who is never named, but is the alter ego of Bradbury himself) is a writer of mystery stories who teams up with Detective Elmo Crumley to investigate a series of strange, seemingly unrelated deaths that increasingly look like murder to the young narrator.

The characters are deliciously eccentric, but utterly believable (it is part of Bradbury’s gift to show how the ostensibly strange makes us more, not less, human). I’ll avoid dropping any more hints about the plot, but I do want to quote a snippet that demonstrates the author’s power in conveying the feel of his setting:

“Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad. It had fog almost every night and along the shore the moaning of the oil well machinery and the slap of dark water in canals and the hiss of sand against the windows of your house when the wind came up and sang among the open places and along the empty walks.

Those were the days when the Venice pier was falling apart and dying in the sea and you could find there the bones of a vast dinosaur, the rollercoaster, being covered by the shifting tides.

At the end of one long canal you could find old circus wagons that had been rolled and dumped, and in the cages, at midnight, if you looked, things lived – fish and crayfish moving with the tide, and it was all the circuses of time somehow gone to doom and rusting away.”

Bradbury published a sequel, titled A Graveyard for Lunatics, which continues the noir theme, but carries it to Hollywood in 1954. Both of these books are genuinely fun reads.

12 comments:

the_real_jeffs said...

I thought I knew all of Bradbury's books. Clearly not! Dang, I gotta hit the book web sites again....

kc said...

I found them used at Amazon for under $5 each paperback. For those who have more cash to spare, the collector's items are prettier!

Thanks for the tip, Paco, I think I'll enjoy these.

TW: orxobb -- huh?

RebeccaH said...

I didn't know these books existed either, and Bradbury was one of my favorite authors in days gone by. I still think The Martian Chronicles are a lyrical masterpiece, even though his Mars didn't resemble the real planet in the slightest.

missred said...

(what rebeccah said) I am definitely going to scour the shelves for these! adding the used book store on the list of things to do next week

the_real_jeffs said...

Rebecca, I treasure Bradybury's "Fahrenheit 451" to this day.....and I first read in high school (way too many years ago).

In point of fact, I have a large selection of his books, collections, and short stories. Alas, my bookshelves are no where near as pretty as Paco's.....

Paco said...

Needless to say, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to bring to the attention of Bradbury fans a book of his they haven't read yet.

But you don't have to buy it to see if you like it; you can always try the public library.

bruce said...

I was a Bradbury fanatic at the age of ten (1965), and Something Wicked This Way Comes was my favourite, but yes I would say Dandelion Wine did give me an appreciation of small town USA which among other things kept me immune from popular anti-Americanism (which I observed growing even before the Vietnam War). That and my father telling me back then how the Americans saved us in WWII and people in Sydney were dancing in the streets when they saw the American planes flying in, 1942.

the_real_jeffs said...

I also love his "Martian Chronicles"! I don't know how many times I checked it out from the school library.

Paco said...

Good on'ya, Bruce, and your Dad, too!

RJ: Russell Kirk published an interesting volume of essays (Reclaiming a Patrimony) in which he said some highly complementary things about Bradbury and about fantasy fiction in general. I'll have to see if I can't dig it up and cite a few of his comments.

Ted Wallace said...

I agree! Dandelion Wine is my favorite too. I could be wrong but I think it has sold more copies than any of his other books!
Ted

Steve Skubinna said...

Odd, I've read Bradbury since I was a kid and never got to those two. So that's one more I owe you, Paco.

Sorta OT, but I was astonished when Disney did "Something Wicked This Way Comes." So purists might quibble, but my reaction was (and is) Disney did this? You're shitting me!

I'm giving them a pass on that film, to me it showed real guts for them to do such a dark and thoughtful piece.

Steve Skubinna said...

Incidentally, I think "Something Wicked..." is a terrific film adaptation. I throw in the caveats for the inevitable geek fans who are outraged that in scene six, Jim Nightshade should be combing his hair front to back, not left to right.