When Ray Bradbury is good, when he's sighted in on the yestermorrows of the past and the future, when he's balanced his always supremely-refined imagination against the realities of the world of which he writes, there is no one able to hold a quill to him. As a writer of the phantastic, the science-factional, the thriller, the sophist chronicles of dreams and illusions and the metaphors of life as only he can invent them, this prolific novelist - including short story collections and various novella-type manuscripts, the man has well over forty titles to his name - he is a true master of the mysteries of life.
But when he tries too hard, or in this case, when he's tossed together pieces dating back to some of his earliest writings and running all the way through to current chronicles, the result is well, just a tiny blip on the radar screen of important literary events.
His style is so uniquely his own, that when he can't reach his own status quo strings, he ends up dangling in the air of toss-away metaphors and rusty adjectives. The opening story, for example, titled "Chrysalis" and written back in 1946, has as its first line, "Long after midnight ..." Bradbury has used this about a hundred times in his writing and even used it as one of his book titles. That's annoying to the reader who wants to stumble upon a shade of Ray he/she hasn't read before.
Ray always left his stories open to interpretation - do the ghosts befriend the new family? Do the sneakers indeed help the young boy run faster than the rush of wind? But here, he fills in the spaces, connects the dots, and completely blots out our involvement. A story called "The Completist" is about a man who has traveled the world, collecting libraries of books on every subject. He is seated at a table with a couple and they are regaled by his tales of roaming the earth in search of books and rare manuscripts that will
fill his libraries at home, buildings always filled with strangers. He delights in it. But the third paragraph from the end spoils the entire affair when the stranger utters, "Why did my thirty-five-year-old son kill his wife, destroy, his daughter, and hang himself?"
The story is so obviously leading up this sort of fait d'accompli - the man has a hole in his heart and he's seeking to fill it. But this line is so over the top soap opera, that it's embarrassing to read. With all the words in the world, this is what the great Bradbury felt best conveyed his feelings?
And the final writing is an ode or an epilogue or a tribute to his literary heroes. It is strained and vacuous and barely decipherable. Ray has consciously attempted to bestow upon it a feeling of "importance", of "lasting impact" and what we're left with is several pages of marginal metaphors and cutesy rhymes. Ray, in this piece, is say how he desperately wants to be thought of and remembered in the same terms as Poe and Shaw and those giants. And so, in a sort of false reversal of modesty, he tends to play himself down, saying he'll never be encased in the same tomb of immortality as these giants but at the same time he's insisting that he will be entombed in the same tomb of immortality as these giants.
Terrific moments but too few of them. Ray had Brad-buried himself in his own coffin of dreams.