Last night, I slapped a book closed and sighed with the satisfaction only a great novel can bring. Then, I turned to Bill who was reading Hemings Classic Car magazine.
“That was awesome. Have you read much Ray Bradbury?” Words tumbled over my lips as I spoke. I still floated on a cloud of poetry in prose.
“Fahrenheit 451,” he said, not looking up from the page.
“Well, yeah, of course. Every high schooler has read that haven’t they?” I stood up and pressed my paperback into his chest. “You’ve got to read this. Oh wait, you can’t until Bear finishes it. I promised it to her first. ”
“What’s the title?” he asked as he turned the book over.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” we said together and then laughed.
“Oh, I read that a long time ago. You’re right, it’s good.” Bill set the book aside and picked up his magazine again.
“When?” I said, perplexed.
“In high school,” he said, and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
It’s times like these when I realize my husband and I are eight years apart, and I’m still his junior in so many ways.. Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, the year I was born, and since Bradbury didn’t write any other adult novels until 1985 when he published Death is a Lonely Business, I almost missed out on this master of lyrical wordplay.
The Vietnam War was the same for me. Bill nearly went. He graduated high school in 1972, and I was a little kid when Saigon fell in 1975. Before the internet was the diviner of all knowledge, I used to pepper him with questions about the conflict. Our daughter experienced something similar recently when her teacher mentioned the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and Bear unfortunately asked if anyone was hurt. Her teacher believed her sassy, and it took my assurance that Bear was simply lost in the nebulous history before her birth, to get her out of trouble.
We can’t know what we don’t know.
So it is for me and Bradbury. One night, a message dropped into my email inbox from audible.com asking me if I’d listened to some of their best loved mysteries. The mysterious press is my great love–all hasty conflict and setting the universe right by novel’s end. I will read or listen to almost anything featuring a good detective trying to right wrongs.
I saw on the website Death Is a Lonely Business, and I thought “why not?” I never knew Bradbury wrote mysteries. In fact, he wrote three that were an homage to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Ross Macdonald. I’ve never read James M. Cain, but I am a fan of the other three whose characters epitomize the hard-boiled private eye. Before long, as I walked the treadmill everyday, I found myself swept up in this fantastical story with truly memorable characters. I also became fascinated with Venice Beach, California, and learned that Bradbury left clues to his own novels and life within the book. So, that was my first exposure to Bradbury’s skill. I giggled silently to his writing advice throughout the novel. The best? “Throw up into your typewriter each morning. Clean up every Noon,” actually first uttered by Raymond Chandler if Goodreads.com is correct. If you’re a writer who writes, this quote must make you laugh.
For my garden friends, who are now wondering if I’ve lost my mind, there is a fantastic garden within those creamy pages too.
Once I finished the mystery, I couldn’t bear to let it go and read the other two yet, so on the suggestion of a friend, I picked up Something Wicked. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, its imaginative style, tremendous plot and smooth characterizations made me finish it in a day. I don’t often take an entire day to read anymore. The last time was when I read The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. I still think The Power and the Glory is one of the finest novels ever written, and it explains faith better than most doxologies.
Bradbury was very generous with his time and talent. He often spoke about writing and even wrote a book detailing his process in Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. His advice is much like that I was taught in journalism school at Oklahoma University. I’m glad to see things are still done much the same whether it’s an ebook or paper. Bradbury makes me want to write fiction again. Only time will tell if I actually do. In the meantime, however, here’s a video clip of a talk he gave in 2001.