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Onyx reviews: From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

How long does it take for an idea to become a book? In Ray Bradbury's case, the answer lies somewhere between nine days—the length of time it took him to write the first version of Fahrenheit 451—and fifty-five years, which is how long it's been since he wrote the earliest stories contained in From the Dust Returned.

Billed as a novel, From the Dust Returned—like most of Bradbury's long works - is really an assemblage of related short stories. In this case, six of the chapter-stories have been previously published, starting with "The Traveler" in 1945. Bradbury has woven them together into a lush tapestry, with new stories and interconnecting passages.

The book, featuring an eerily wonderful cover illustration by the late Charles Addams (of Addams Family cartoon fame), tells of the Elliots, an extended family of odd creatures that are almost—but not quite—vampires. They range from A Thousand Times Great Grandmere, who is neither living nor dead but merely exists, to the bewinged Uncle Einar, to the beautiful and timeless Cecy, who can send her thoughts far afield to see the world through the eyes of other beings or creatures while she rests on her bed of sand, to the four cousins, who lost their bodies in a tragic fire. Their essences are distributed, visiting inside cooperating relatives, with often-hilarious results.

Then there's ten-year-old Timothy, a human foundling left at the Elliot's front door when he was a baby. The note attached to his basket said only "Historian." Though his skin is fleshy pink and his reflection actually appears in mirrors, the Elliots treat him as one of their own. He wants to be one of them.

Timothy is awed by his "relatives," who flock back to the strange house in Bradbury's mythical October Country, Illinois for homecoming events. His role as family historian is crucial to the survival of the Elliots. He is the one who remembers, and this book, at its heart, is about remembering. The Elliots live in an age when fewer people believe in ghosts and other such creatures. Their existence dims and they weaken when people no longer believe.

When Timothy remembers—and believes—in his family, it continues to exist. Bradbury says that many of the Elliot family members have real-life counterparts in his own family. "Though long dead, they live again and waft in the chimney flues, stairwells and attics of my imagination, kept there with great love by this chap who was once fantastically young and incredibly impressed with the wonder of Halloween," Bradbury writes.

From the Dust Returned is classic Bradbury. No other writer can pull off the literary excesses, the flowery turns of phrase and the youthful exuberance in every sentence, every syllable. No other writer should try. The plots in the stories that comprise this novel are uncomplicated. Cecy inhabits a young woman's body to experience love. Uncle Einar's failing night vision forces him to pretend to be a kite so he can fly in the daytime. A woman remembers classic ghost stories to aide a fading spirit weakened by disbelief.

The joy in reading these stories is the experience of language and emotion infused in every word. The tales are sometimes witty, oftentimes poignant and always touching. Occasionally they are so wrapped up in adjectives and description that the story gets a little lost in the dressing, but that's okay. Words have power and simple, straightforward ideas often come wrapped in splendid adornment.

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