This Way

The more I get to know myself—pleased to meet you, sir—the more I realize that my childhood was cobbled together from small but repeated exposures to my favorite things.  I knew Dark Shadows from watching a limited number of episodes and reading a limited number of cheap novels.  I knew Alice Cooper from just two of his albums.  And I knew Ray Bradbury from a couple collections of his short stories.  No doubt this is in part because we weren’t exactly affluent and I found my books, by chance, at Goodwill.  I had no way of collecting Bradbury’s oeuvre, and besides, I was trying to get to know Edgar Allan Poe as well.  I knew Bradbury as a short story writer, and that’s still how I primarily think of him.

I felt compelled to read Something Wicked This Way Comes recently.  Since I’m used to Bradbury the short story author, it felt overdrawn to me.  I know this is heresy.  Great horror writers point to this novel as highly influential and inspirational.  Maybe if it were read closer to when I was born, when it was published.  Too many long paragraphs, especially early on, contain almost abstract descriptions without clear actions, leaving me confused.  Once the story got underway it was quite good.  As someone who writes, I know the dilemma of trying to freeze poetry into prose, and to make a coherent story from thousands of separate impulses.  Believe me, I know.  These days such things are edited out and stories become as thin as Bradbury’s Skeleton Man.  I guess I’m just out of practice.

The plot is great, but it feels so 1950s.  So boy/male oriented.  So American.  I suppose I attended my fair share of carnivals as a kid.  We didn’t go often, and I never knew one to settle on the edge of our small town.  And although we were free to ride our bikes or run as far as we cared to, home was never that far away and, I knew, there were scary things in the ubiquitous woods.  Ray Bradbury’s short stories were likely the main source behind my own early attempts at fiction.  Even today I’ll be scribbling along and think, “this is kind of like Bradbury.”  But I always have his short work in mind.  There are some great parts in Something Wicked, and it does build the tension toward the end.  Still, when it’s said and done I’ll be thinking of Bradbury’s short stories and how they formed my own nostalgia, even if only in little fragments.

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