We’ll Always Have Paris
Harper Voyager 2009
An abiding image for me comes in the short story called ‘Remembrance, Ohio’. A couple apparently find themselves in a hot dusty town, uninhabited. They can’t agree on its name — is it Remembrance? Coldwater? Inclement? — or which state they’re in — Ohio? California? Nebraska? All they know is that they have found a familiar-looking porch on which to sit and reminisce, although they can’t quite recall precise details. Their confusion is heightened by half a dozen strangers who are searching for them. To escape they burst through the front door of the house, and slam it, and turn.
“There was nothing behind the front wall of the house except strutworks, canvas, boards, a small meadow, and a creek. A few arc-lights stood to each side. Stenciled on a papier-mâché inner wall was STUDIO #12.”
It’s all a façade, part of a movie set built on some Californian backlot, we assume. For me this fleeting image encapsulates the spirit of this collection of around a score of short stories: ordinary people adrift from their familiar world, often a small mid-American town, thrown or eased into unfamiliar situations, trying to retreat back to what they know. Eccentric Pietro makes his peace with conformity but loses his independence in the process. A mother visits a man who has had her son’s heart transplanted into him, hoping to recognise some aspect of her lost child. Astronauts on a mission to Mars feel alienation and a deep sense of loss until the Main Street of a typical US town, complete with facilities, is recreated in the Martian desert. Couples come together or face separation, find solace in each other or precipitate rupture.
Bradbury had a touching faith in America, as his concluding short poem indicates: “We are the dream that other people dream.” Brought up in Waukegan, Illinois but moving to California in his early teens, he retained an apple-pie nostalgia for his childhood despite transplantation to the dream world that was Los Angeles; much of the surrealism surrounded these short stories comes, I feel, from the mixed marriage of contrasting milieus.
He long resisted being labelled as a science fiction writer, preferring to be seen as a fantasy author. In these short but haunting tales he takes us down unexpected paths, revealing the false fronts that many of us erect in order to hide our true interiors, not just from others but also from ourselves.
2015 Reading Challenge
Slightly cheating here: this should strictly speaking be a book which is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but instead I’ve gone for the late author himself, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, who died in 2012. His citation noted his “distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy”