Summer Morning, Summer Night
Edited by Donn Albright and Jon Eller
Harper Voyager 2015 (2008)
Its suburbs housed young and old, hermits and gossips, conservatives and eccentrics, the love-lorn and the unlovable; Green Town, Illinois, was — maybe still is — a town of mystery, secrets and heartaches underneath its bland exterior.
Bradbury’s chronicles of lives lived under his microscope extended from the observational vignettes in Dandelion Wine to the magic realism of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Based on the author’s childhood experience in Waukegan, Illinois, its aspiring middle-class neighbourhoods are portrayed as a hothouse harbouring secret passions and private obsessions, all seething beneath a thin veneer of respectability.
This selection of short stories (some only half a page long) similarly let the reader eavesdrop or spy on the everyday doings of townsfolk; but rather than it being an abusive relationship our fly-on-the-wall position allows us to extend our compassion to many of the denizens, just occasionally permitting us to be judgemental.
Nearly thirty pieces mostly deal with summer in Green Town, even including the word ‘summer’ in the title. Ranging in date from 1948 to 2002 and later (the collection appeared in 2008) they provide a sepia-tinged picture of 1920s Waukegan, where Bradbury lived on and off until he was 14. One can imagine the young Ray frequenting the Carnegie-funded library, sauntering or slinking down side streets, observing everyone from his peers to his elders, reconstructing their stories based on a mix of hearsay and imagination.
He even borrows a paternal family name, Spaulding, to give to some of his Green Town characters. Here is a young boy infatuated with a young female librarian, a pair of old biddies offering love philtres, a grocer hoping to reunite long-separated lovers, a sceptic moved to disinterring a body, and young girls who dice with death to win a game of one-upmanship. Here is homespun philosophy, crass judgements, sage advice and poetry; here are tragedies, comedies, forgotten memories, crimes, romances and fables; here you will find all life bounded in a nutshell.
Once or twice we are reminded that autumn is coming, and at least once we seemingly find ourselves not on the shores of Lake Michigan but the Pacific, but by and large we remain in a forever summer, in an American Midwest seesawing from balmy to sweltering and marooned in the hiatus between the end of the Great War and the Great Depression.
Told with a serene economy that belies its richness Summer Morning, Summer Night for me is a treasure chest of jewels to save and keep, knowing that it’ll be there for me to open and examine its contents whenever the mood takes me.
Bradbury was born in January 1920; I’ve also reviewed We’ll Always Have Paris, another collection of his short stories which range further afield than Green Town