Sunday, August 03, 2008

Book Review: From the Dust Returned

Book Cover. No larger image.
Bradbury, Ray, (2001). From the Dust Returned. New York: William Morrow.
Photo source: LibraryThing

Like many of Bradbury’s “novels,” From the Dust Returned (hereafter referred to simply as Dust) began its life as a collection of short storied, most of which date from the 1940s. Most of these short stories are quoted in their entirety, becoming a “chapter” in the “novel.” I quote the words novel and chapter when applied to Dust because it is simply another short story collection bound together by a tenuous story line inserted as an afterthought and declared a novel.

Bradbury has never made any pretense of being anything other than a writer of superb short stories. He readily admits that his first novel, the classic Martian Chronicles, was simply a collection of unrelated short stories that shared a common setting. He repackaged these stories to get a publisher who demanded a novel to accept them.

Dust follows this tradition. Much of the book consists of a series of esoteric short stories that are really more word paintings than stories written in the 1940s, I assume the publishers were buying only two words in the stories: Ray Bradbury. The rest of the book consists mainly of new word paintings that tie the older stories together and provide a semblance of plot. Bradbury’s style is such that I couldn’t sort the older stories from the newer ones without consulting the acknowledgments.

Many of the transitions are abrupt, flinging the reader haphazardly from one frame of the comic to the next. But Bradbury’s eloquence quickly sooths any jangled nerves.

Now, there were times I was tempted not to pick the book back up. (Indeed, I may have set it down the first time I tried to read it; I found a bookmark a little more than half-way through.) If you’re looking for one of Bradbury’s more accessible works—say Fahrenheit 451 or Something Wicked This Way Comes, look elsewhere.

You should read Dust for the beauty of Bradbury’s language. Bradbury is a word painter who creates dramatic scenes in the reader’s brain though his mastery of poetic language. In rereading this work, I didn’t care that there is no real plot to follow. Neither did I care that the characters are mostly flat—more line drawings than portraits. Bradbury’s language is its own reward. It doesn’t knock the reader out of the story because there is no story, only flowing, beautiful language. Just make sure you’re in the mood for that kind of book before you pick this one up.

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