Don’t be afraid, folks! Step right up! A library card is your ticket to Ray Bradbury’s “Dark Carnival.” It is all quite quaint, really; this 1947 debut collection is perfectly harmless. Rarely do the exhibits in this carnival break loose, and the chances of them devouring your sanity is minimal.
Come see them all! The BOY who does NOT drink blood and the FAMILY that wishes he would… The SKELETON that is trapped inside a man’s body… The formaldehyde JAR that contains the pallid moist things of the sea… The TOMBSTONE that knows your future… The LAKE where your innocence drowned… the RELATIVES who will smile FOREVER… the BABY who thought of nothing but murder… the MORTICIAN with a killer inferiority complex…the CROWD that swarms after every accident… the GAME of POISON… The WIND that speaks with the voices of its victims… The NIGHT that encompasses all… The OLD WOMAN who refused to die… The OLD MAN who had been dead all along… The GUEST who couldn’t stand silverware… and the MUMMIES… There’s always mummies…
“The Crowd” and “The Wind” are still chilling, and Bradbury would later expand upon the three Elliott family stories included here. But it’s the closing novella, “The Next in Line,” that most nakedly shows Bradbury’s often unacknowledged debt to Ernest Hemingway. An ambitious pastiche of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “Hills Like White Elephants,” it features Mexican mummies and an American tourist couple wrapped up in marital misery. I don’t mean pastiche disparagingly: just that “The Next in Line” could have snuck into “Men Without Women” and you wouldn’t have noticed it didn’t belong. That’s a literary feat!
POST-SCRIPT: Here’s a classic, illuminating Paris Review interview with Bradbury. “I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell”