Friday, November 21, 2014

Ray Bradbury's Long After Midnight (Part Two)

Continuing with my reading of Long After Midnight. Spoilers, as always.

original cover artwork for the 1976 Bantam Books paperback
by Ian Miller

Interval in Sunlight

For me, this was the highlight of this collection. Like the last story, this is a contemplation of wrong choices made in adulthood. A couple are vacationing in Mexico, hoping that this visit to a foreign country will help save their relationship (Shades of Jack Kerouac?). There is a terrible, passive-aggressive dynamic at work; the woman, a successful writer, is constantly giving in to the demands and verbal abuse of the man. I hadn't realized before reading this how rare it is for Bradbury to use a female as the focus of his storytelling, leading me to wonder if this is his way of obscuring an event that actually happened in his life.  It's also rare to see him move into this darker territory. What in the usual run of popular magazine stories would be a bittersweet and hopeful reunion holds no redemption here. The writer is trapped in her ties to this man who is jealous of her career (escape is blocked by panic attacks and the general need to not be alone). Powerful and honest.

A Story of Love

Another one of the Spaulding clan, a young Douglas, falls in love with his teacher. Awkward, and peters out without any kind of direction. As innocent as he tries to write, even Bradbury can't make this end well.

The Wish

An interesting variation on "The Monkey's Paw," and a Christmas story to boot. A man makes a wish at midnight on Christmas Eve and gets to meet his father one last time. Of course they get to say "I love you" to each other, which they never did in real life. Fairly maudlin, and a bit embarrassing.

Forever and the Earth

Another one of his "tribute" stories. Thomas Wolfe is kidnapped in time to a far future where, apparently, no one can write. He's commissioned by a eccentric rich man to take a rocket to the moon and write a novel about it. Some of Bradbury's best writing, with a nice poetic ending, but I doubt that any modern readers feel as strongly about Wolfe as he does.

The Better Part of Wisdom

This one stands out as an early attempt at expressing tolerance of a male/male relationship. A dying grandfather visits his grandson and finds a young man in the place of where he expected a young woman. If it was left at that, the story would work better, but it goes into one of those Bradbury childhood flashbacks. Instead of just accepting an adult relationship, it has to be justified with the ideal of innocent love. This is probably Bradbury's biggest fault as a writer; he constantly goes back to the idea that everything was better for those few years when one had no responsibilities. Even heartbreak is somehow purer for children.

Darling Adolf

An unlikely scenario wherein a Hollywood crew are filming a Hitler movie at the actual places in Bavaria where he came to power. It all leads up to a re-enactment of the Nuremberg Rally and a refutation of anyone who expresses nostalgia for the Nazi years. Doubly embarrassing is Bradbury's attempt at casual swearing as one of the Hollywood guys calls Hitler's inner circle "superfags." 

The Miracle of Jamie

I found this one to be an interesting failure. It starts out as a typical Bradbury story about a young man who is convinced that he can create miracles by just thinking really hard. Towards the end, it veers towards realism as Jamie realizes that he can't actually affect everything, and his mother dies. And it's this change in tone that doesn't work. I found myself so trained to take the author's magical realism for granted, that the "true to life" ending came off as the artificial part.

The October Game

This is one of Bradbury's masterpieces. As a kid, I read this and didn't get the nuances at all, more intrigued by the Halloween game where people pass around parts of a "dead witch" in the dark. As an adult, this is a bitter story about a husband who feels threatened by the domesticity of his wife and daughter. One of the few times where things are left as unspoken as is possible within the bounds of the story, letting the reader put the pieces together in their own mind. And one of the few stories about murder which is somehow still acceptable enough for children's anthologies.

The Pumpernickel

A wasteful few pages about an older man reminiscing about his youthful days. Probably meant to have an ironic ending, but this territory has been covered many times in better ways by our author.

Long After Midnight

A twist ending story about a crew of ambulance drivers who pick up a young suicide one night. There's a question of whether changing the sexual identity of the victim changes the feelings one has for them, but no discussion of the question thereof. Probably just meant to give magazine readers something to talk about at the water cooler.

Have I Got A Chocolate Bar For You!

A story of a priest's re-gaining of his faith, triggered by a man who comes to confession because of an addiction to chocolate. Cutesy and forgettable.

And that's it. This collection really peters out at the end. Too many of these are filler, obviously written for last century's magazine market; stories meant to be read for the moment and then tossed away. Instead of hunting this paperback down, the general reader may be better off purchasing The Stories of Ray Bradbury, which contains "Interval in Sunlight" and "The October Game" or the most recent edition of I Sing The Body Electric which contains "The Blue Bottle" and "Drink Entire." The rest of the stories here are probably skip-able to all but the most die-hard fans.

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