We've all been human for some amount of time and we enjoy stories about our condition. The authors considered the best are the ones that depict our humanity most accurately; and the best can uncannily understand and describe what we secretly (or openly) feel, desire or fear. They make us reflect on what it means to be human.
Novelists can do this on a large scale, while short stories offer a peek at a certain moment in a life that offer a full portrait of life. It can be a difficult thing to master. Ray Bradbury has been doing it for a number of decades now. A recent collection of his short stories, We'll Always Have Paris, contains examples of just how powerful short stories can be.
Bradbury is, of course, well known for his Martian Chronicles and the classic Fahrenheit 451. He's written hundreds of other stories, too, in the sci-fi genre and has done work in cinema and TV. While I've probably seen some of his visual work, I have never read any of Bradbury's works until now. I've considered reading Fahrenheit 451 a number of times but never got around to it. I was impressed with the short stories in We'll Always Have Paris, though, so perhaps it's time to visit his other work.
With a title like that it's a sure bet that the stories will be nostalgic and somewhat maudlin. Bradbury conveys those feelings and more — regret, temptation, loss, ecstasy — with masterful ease. His prose was the pinnacle of brevity, creating — in the bare minimum of words or sentences — tangible settings, authentic characters. I connect Bradbury with science-fiction and was expecting that out of these stories, but they weren't necessarily sci-fi. There was one that was out and out sci-fi, "Fly Away Home." It points out the difficulty of leaving home; in this case home being Earth and Mars again being the destination. People need familiarity, and they find a way to bring Earth to Mars.
Some of the stories are on the odd side. "Pater Caninus" was one of those odd ones, although it was a humorous slam on Catholic intolerance and, shall we say, "dog"ma. "Ma Perkins" is another odd one. It was a story worthy of Rod Serling, to be sure, about a radio personality who becomes flesh and wreaks some interesting havoc on a man's world. Some of the stories are unsettling. "The Murder" comes to mind. It's about a bet two friends make and its unsavory outcome. The story is very brief and annoying. Not annoying in a badly written way; no, it's supposed to be. It's an example of how Bradbury's sparse words can convey the feelings of his characters and it sticks with you. The titular story, "We'll Always Have Paris," with its seemingly homosexual overtones and near infidelity, is another of the unsettling type.
At it's best, though, this collection makes you consider carefully the relationships in your life — are you making them the best you can, relishing each moment? Stories like "The Visit," dealing with a mother's grief and organ transplants, are powerful and poignant. "Arrival and Departure" is a good relationship story, too, about an older couple and their choice to stay home together.
The slim tome felt like it only took ten minutes to read and it was enjoyable. For me it was an introduction to the work of Ray Bradbury, an author who deserves his reputation as a fine storyteller.