Serene economy

Waukegan’s Carnegie library

Ray Bradbury:
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

14 thoughts on “Serene economy

  1. I see you’ve started celebrating ‘birthdays’ with Bradbury. I’ve read only a couple of his so far and both futuristic, though still highlighting that human nature, specifically destructiveness remains the same no matter the time or place. It should be interesting reading his take on more ‘ordinary’ happenings in ‘ordinary’ settings.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I ‘forgot’ to mention that Bradbury was born a hundred years ago as it’s another of my secret challenges (not to be divulged till after it’s accomplished) to read more authors with a centenary to celebrate! (Doh! I just revealed it!) I missed out on George Eliot last year though I did at least start reading Melville…

      As for this collection, I heartily recommend it, Mallika, if only as a contrast to the only other pieces of his I’ve read, Something Wicked and his book-burning book. In fact, I’ll probably fit in Fahrenheit 451 for a reread later this year.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This definitely sounds like Dandelion Wine but with a wider spread of years. I shall look out for it. I have shied away from Farenheit 451 for years but had decided last year that I shall read it and it will appear on the plan for 2020. Bradbury has been a revelation for me 🙂

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    1. I’ve now looked at one or two Goodreads reviews which seem to suggest that these are stories that didn’t make the cut for Dandelion Wine or Farewell Summer, so I guess it’s unsurprising that it sounds familiar. As I say, it’s a slim volume, and I got it new at Waterstone’s a year or two back at the bargain cover price of … wait for it … £2.99!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. It doesn’t seem particularly well known, Silvia, possibly because the collection was published quite late on in his life, though some of the historic pieces from way back must have appeared in various publications. I think you’d enjoy it, it’s an easy read and the stories are mostly quite short, ideal for a bedtime read!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. earthbalm

    I really enjoyed this when I read it last year, or was it the year before? I bought and read Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” on the strength of it being one of Bradbury’s inspirations. Loved that book too. Thanks for posting Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Serene economy — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  5. Sounds a lovely collection! I’m contemplating doing some study of short stories vs. novels as far as beloved writers like Diana Wynne Jones go. As of right now, I think it’s important to use stuff written by the same author. Any other recommendations of writers in both short story and novel? Hmmm, suppose Stephen King would technically count…


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