It's no secret that Bradbury wields a pen like Jon Snow wields valyrian steel. His poetic lyricism and artful prose makes you marvel at it like a toddler witnessing a circus for the first time. It's no accident that he's widely praised as one of the most remarkable, eloquent writers of the 20th century. And after reading this collection, it's painfully obvious why this is so... even if some stories didn't quite strike my fancy.
There's 19 of these suckers so I'll try to make this quick and painless.
The Dwarf: It kicked off things in good ol' weird fashion and things were moving along quite smoothly until the ending hit. It was lackluster and wished it would've swung in a different direction. But the score was settled with the baddie so that managed to put a big grin on my face... which was also enough to make Verne Troyer do a fist pump. (4/5 stars)
The Next in Line: Strong imagery set against the backdrop of a small picturesque town in Mexico. I literally felt like I was there with a sombrero hat, relaxing in a lawn chair sipping a cold corona on the balcony of a villa. Admittedly, this story started off painfully slow and I found myself staring off in space because it was longer than it needed to be. But as it went on, the creepier it got-- especially that catacomb mummy scene. And the ending was a huge payoff. (4.5/5)
The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse: Took me a while to get into this one because of the florid writing style, but I liked the takeaway message: that people will do just about anything to gain the approval of others even if it means selling themselves out for it. Nothing jaw-dropping, mind you, but it was executed in a cool unusual way. But still, slightly forgettable. (3/5)
Skeleton: This was fantastic! Thoroughly entertaining and bizarre, simplistic in plot development but engaging nonetheless with a resolution that made me scratch my head in a good way. M. Munigant gave me serious goosebumps. Picture him, an odd little doctor with a hollow tongue who gains sustenance from breadsticks and human bones... enough said, ewwwww. (5/5)
The Jar: I wasn't too crazy about this one. Yeah, it put a dark creative spin on one's past regrets and traumatic experiences. But some of the dialogue was lacking for me and it felt somewhat dry in spots. I couldn't understand what the hell one character was saying at all. But still, this story invoked a nice level of eeriness and curiosity as to what was in that dang jar. And the twist at the end was its saving grace. (3.5/5)
The Lake: Much quieter in tone and melancholic. Obviously, water was symbolic throughout this one but none of it came from my eyes (guess my heart is made from the finest stone crafted). A supernatural love tale that ultimately fell flat on its face for me. Didn't scratch anything new on the surface. Somewhat enjoyable but likely to be lost in the pile of more memorable stories. (2/5)
The Emissary: Unlike the previous one, I thought this was more poignant and endearing, probably because the narrative was handled better. A bedridden boy with a dog as a messenger to the outside world, topped off with an ambiguous ending that riddled me with chills. (4/5)
Touched with Fire: This one was okay, felt a little forced. An interesting premise but gradually loses itself in the grand scheme of things. I thought the turning point in the story came off silly and didn't resonate well with one of the central characters' behavior. And then the heat kinda "sizzled" out once I knew where it was headed. (3/5)
The Small Assassin: Might be my favorite of the bunch! Genuinely frightening with some solid pacing and build-up. This needed to be longer, like 10 pages longer. I can imagine this shocked the hell out of people back then, sent some folk into a fit of rage even. And maaaan, stewie may wanna take some notes here with his miserable attempt at trying to kill lois. This is how it's done son. (5/5)
The Crowd: A pretty good chilling story about a seemingly ordinary occurrence, but didn't wow me enough to stand out from the "crowd." But it was different and it touched on the psychological wiring of people who thrive on the pain and problems of others. (3/5)
Jack-in-the-Box: From the start, there must have been a thousand animated question marks going off above my head. I had no idea what I was reading, but soon everything fell right into place. An imaginative, peculiar sci-fi story that showcased some cool fantasy and dystopian elements. (4/5)
The Scythe: Woooooo this was wild, loved it! A twist that totally came out of left field. The idea behind this one was ingeniously executed and its resolve left me satisfied and stuck in utter amazement. To say any more would ruin it. (5/5)
Uncle Einar: Eh, wasn't my kind of story. I thought it was cheesier than a slice of pizza. Sure.. the romantic stuff and the light-hearted fantasy components provided some comic relief, but I was eager to be thrust back into the 'sinister' territory of the collection. (1.5/5)
The Wind: A welcomed departure from lovie dovie town, but a rather dull one. While it had a few intense moments with a great sense of urgency, this story just didn't suck me in. Wasn't too fond of the weather being an adversary and its motive for wreaking havoc felt kinda off. (2.5/5)
The Man Upstairs: A superb vampiric tale. I applaud it for not relying on bloody action set pieces or over-the-top scares which would've been typical. Instead, it decided to hone in on subtle tension with a clever jab of a conclusion, though I wished it ended on a more serious note. (4.5/5)
There was an Old Woman: The title forgot 'annoying' because she really bugged me. There might've been over 500 exclamation marks in this one from all her yelling and nagging. Yelling and nagging aside, I thought this was just okay... a battle with death coupled with a few comedic moments. Wasn't as memorable as the others. (2/5)
The Cistern: My least favorite. Rich in dialogue but a total drag. I felt out of sync with the narrative and I almost rushed to get through it. The ending and twist didn't make up for the struggle endured. (1/5)
Homecoming: Heavy on characterization and full of emotion, this one had an Addams family vibe to it which I loved as a kid. I felt so engrossed in the preparation for the 'special reunion' because of the efficacious writing and setting. And I personally felt genuine empathy for the main character who was an outcast who longed for acceptance. (4/5 stars)
The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone: This concluded things on a 'normal' note which I found to be... well abnormal. It felt oddly misplaced in the bunch. There's no macabre, hocus pocus, or fairy tale dust-- just an uplifting appreciative nod to life' simplicities. The "death" threw me for a loop but overall a slightly above average story. The last line was golden though. (3.5/5)
If you're looking for something that will add some spice to the Halloween season (a couple of days away at the time of this writing), go ahead and snuggle up in that big quilted blanket of yours with a cup of tea and inhale the twisted haunting imagination from one of the best.