This time around I am going to break the walls down and talk to you, my readers, heart to heart. For much of 2007 and the early part of 2008, I was in a rough spot. If you know me personally, chances are, you probably know why. During this time the quality of my writing ranged from overly “emo” to just plain pathetic. Needless to say, I was in a real life “Dark Dimension.”
There were three books I read during that time that helped bring me back. The first of these was Richard Matheson’s seminal novel I AM LEGEND, which had me so hooked, I took it to work with me. Second there was Joe Hill’s phenomenal debut collection 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS. Last but not least, in May of 2008, I read Ray Bradbury’s THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, a collection of 19 macabre, inventive, and beautifully written tales. And that was the one that pulled me all the way out.
I remember reading the second story in there, “The Next in Line,” whilst walking in the woods and just being overwhelmed with the beauty of the language, the story, and the moment. I chronicled the experience in a (mostly) true piece of writing, that as of today still remains unpublished. I was taken by Bradbury’s mastery of the language and his ability to craft scenes that were impossible not to visualize. When he describes the woman character’s dread as she lies in bed thinking about the mummies buried beneath the town, you are forced to experience the horror with her. It was one of many such sequences in the book.
When reading the tales within, one discovers that they all could be set in the same world as each other, the October Country the title refers to. This was Ray Bradbury’s world: full of monsters real and imagined, carnivals, far-fetched ideas (see “Skeleton” or “Jack in the Box”), and an exuberant love of the English language. The stories are all sprinkled with darkness, but never does the atmosphere become oppressively gloomy. I would even go so far as to say that there is a cheery undertone to the horror, like a child’s wonderment on Halloween.
That is not to say that there aren’t horrific stories here. One only needs to read “The Scythe” where a man cutting through a wheat field comes to realize that he holds sway over much more than the lives of the stems of wheat, the Lovecraftian tale “The Jar,” or the disturbing narrative of “The Crowd.” Those along with others are sure to unnerve even some of the most hardened fans, and they achieve this through subtlety.
Each story is classic here, in their concepts and language. Bradbury’s voice throughout is that of a man who sees the world through eyes totally unique from anyone else’s. Reading the book for me was a truly hypersensitive experience. Prior to reading it, I had thought the term “poetic prose” was really pretentious. THE OCTOBER COUNTRY changed my mind on that and on a lot of my ideas about writing too.
Read it and find out for yourself why Bradbury’s work is timeless.
Next Month’s Horror Classic Revisited: H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS