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
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
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