Saturday 1 October 2011

The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

Baby fetus kinda does look like an alien.
I really miss the summer when there was so much extra time to sit around curled up with a great novel. Now that the new school year has arrived, leisurely reading is not altogether pragmatic, considering the large amount of assigned readings and essays to write for my classes. Nevertheless, there is no way that I can simply abandon my reading addiction and now I just have to acquire a certain level of moderation. Instead of reading three novels a week like during the summer, I can read a bunch of short stories and perhaps one novel a month to fill the void. That sounds reasonable.  Hence, the short-story reading meme held on Wednesdays by Bread Crumbs Reads is ideal for me. 

After discovering that one of my fellow book bloggers Sophia is reading October Country by Ray Bradbury, I felt the sudden urge to take out my worn-down copy and read a few stories in the collection before going bed last night. Perhaps not the wisest decision on my part since I ended up having trouble sleeping afterwards. Bradbury is often associated with the Science Fiction genre (and for good reason) but his writing style often contains elements of horror and boy howdy, can he tell a creepy story. "The Small Assassin" showcases Bradbury's mastery of the craft with brevity, style and imagination. The problems that I have with most short-stories is that they feel incomplete on some level or just come across as a formal exercise without any significant purpose; that is, they tend to be completely forgettable. With Bradbury, this is rarely the case. He understands that he is working within a specific narrative framework and there is no time to waste with superfluous detail as opposed to a novel where it possible for the author to digress without harming the narrative. The same cannot be said for the short-story and Bradbury understands this impediment but he uses this constraint to his advantage instead of succumbing to literary self-indulgent trivialities. Thus, he is assiduously economic in his prose and as a result, the story flows consistently through its compactness, effectively building tension towards a shocking conclusion. Bradbury does not make the mistake of under-writing or writing too much, his stories are the perfect length. I have always associated Bradbury's writing with that of a classically trained musician who is able create a beautiful piece of music through the relationship between rhythm, tone and meter. I do not mean to suggest through this analogy that his stories always follow a set pattern with a beginning, middle and end with a satisfying conclusion where everything is wrapped up in a neat little package. He leaves plenty of room for interpretation but there is an underlying precision, rhythm and cadence to Bradbury's use of language; allowing him to maintain control over the material while slowly constructing fear and overwhelming tension throughout his stories.

I have not managed to discuss anything about "The Small Assassin" itself but giving away the plot details would ruin the fun of discovering this story on your own. However, I will say that few literary works have managed to creep the hell out of me. It also contains some very startling implications and convincing possibilities about its subject matter. It is a shame that Bradbury seems to have fallen into obscurity over the years and I'm on a mission to revive his extensive body of work so that more people can be exposed to his genius. Do yourself a favor and read this story (or anything by him for that matter) to understand why he deserves such high praise as one of the best short-story writers around.