To say that Summer Morning, Summer Night is minor Ray Bradbury is, I think, to miss the point entirely. While it shares the same Green Town, Illinois setting as his legendary Something Wicked This Way Comes, the material collected here works on a smaller, more delicate scale. It’s chamber music, not a brass band or a full orchestra, affectionate and truth-telling and warm in a way that only Bradbury can manage.
The book is a collection of short fiction, some of it previously published and some original. The pieces range from regular short story length to flash fiction, but all center around the mythical (in every sense of the word) Green Town, Illinois that served as home base in one way or another for so much of Bradbury’s work.
If there is a literary comparison to be made here, it’s Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, another collection of small story arcs about small-town semi-eccentrics and their sometimes charmed lives. Like Anderson, Bradbury takes us into the heart of his small town with an unflinching eye, showing the good and the bad and turning away from neither. But, since this is Bradbury, it’s all done in such luminous prose that it whisks the whole thing away into fairy-tale Americana. Green Town is a wonderful might-have-been, wish-it-was sort of place, even if there is quiet magic under its eaves and the occasional hint of something darker lurking in the corners.
From this, the stories flow, delicate small pieces about people, instead of giant mushrooms or infant assassins or Martians waiting for their zero hour. We see the tentative blossoming and quiet end of an almost-affair between a teacher and a student. We see the ritual of a couple that hasn’t left their house in years, yet who finally venture forth. We get a dog’s eye view of the town, and a parade of lonely schoolteachers and shut-ins and small boys wanting to do the right thing as they begin to fumble toward adulthood. There’s more haunted stuff here too, in dribs and drabs — a child who hears the screams of a woman buried alive in an empty lot, or the testament of a compulsive killer who walks Green Town’s safe-seeming streets.
It is best not to come to Summer Morning, Summer Night expecting miracles. They’re here, of course, but tucked inside small pleasures and gossamer wisps of story, barely noticed until you’ve already read past them. Instead, it’s best read like an afternoon’s conversation over drinks with a long-lost friend, reveling in the individual moments and memories for their own sake.
(Subterranean Press, 2008)