From the TBR Shelf #9: The October Country by Ray Bradbury October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury

There's bizarre, and then there's BIZARRE.

This collection of Bradbury's dark-fantasy stories includes 15 originally published in Dark Carnival (1947) and 4 other previously-published tales. Despite the wide variety of characters and scenarios, these stories nonetheless cohere because of Bradbury's unique voice and love of the macabre.

Now, of Bradbury's works I've only read Fahrenheit 451 (many years ago) and a short story called "Mars is Heaven!" I remember feeling underwhelmed by the former but enjoying the latter. The October Country, however, is fascinating because Bradbury manages to write about skulls, vampires, skeleton-stealers, and weird amoeba-like squishy things in jars (among other weirdnesses)- all in what I can only call a positively buoyant voice. Seriously! Dude is clearly enjoying himself here, and it's contagious.

Let me give you two examples. In "The Next in Line," a husband and wife vacationing in Mexico go on a tour of a crypt, where the skeletons of people whose families couldn't pay the yearly "grave tax" are stored (after being exhumed...geh). The wife is seized with an inexplicable panic and can't wait to leave the town but...of course...the car won't start and they're stuck there and...I won't spoil it for you :-P

Bradbury's at his most comical in "There Was An Old Woman," a story about a woman who staunchly refuses to accept death and forces her ghost to reenter her already-autopsied body. She threatens the coroner, she rails against the funeral home, she bullies everybody until she gets what she wants (re-admission into the land of the living- sort of). And then proudly shows her autopsy scar to visitors. I'm not making this up.

A handful of stories in this collection verge on the tragic, and some are just plain "out there" (i.e. stories that made me say "whaaa??"). And yet, so many of these tales are ultimately about our greatest fears made flesh: people who only look human, dead people busting out of their graves and wandering around, jars filled with...well...

The October Country has inspired me to read more Bradbury, so I'm putting The Martian Chronicles on my TBR list.

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