二人がここにいる不思議 (新潮文庫) 文庫 – 1999/12/27
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Bradbury always defies genre classification and this collection is no different. Toynbee has a bit of sci-fi, horror, fantasy -- there are rockets, time travel, monsters, ghosts, serial killers -- but there are also non-genre stories with no elements of the supernatural or the fantastical, including one that is just a straight up romance, and some of these rank amongst his best.
I keep returning to the word “beauty” when talking about Bradbury -- even in the weakest stories here, there is something beautiful to find in each one. So many writers, particularly when crafting a horror story, turn to violence and brutality get the point across, and seem to commit to ugliness. Not so with Bradbury -- I always get the sense while I’m reading him that, even in the more cynical or violent stories, he simply loved people too much to slip into cynical nihilism. Even in the stories that deal with the darker side of human behavior, I feel that the cynicism came more from a place of disappointment and sadness rather than anger or misanthropy. Stephen King said that Bradbury sometimes over-wrote, but I find that to be a forgivable sin in short collections like this. It sometimes gives added weight to stories that would be disposable otherwise. Here, sometimes this over-earnestness elevates what could be a simple and somewhat cheesy plot point -- the appearance of a ghost on a train, weird sounds in the attic -- and suffuses it with the melancholic sweet pain of long lost loves, forgotten summer nights, the wonder of youth just barely remembered in the back of one’s mind.
This is pure speculation on my part, but this book was released in 1988, and at the time, many of these stories were adapted for the Ray Bradbury Theater television program, and I wonder if writing with the possibility of screenplays in mind had anything to do with the uncharacteristically uneven quality and tone of the book. There are also a couple of selections from much earlier on that stick out amongst the 80’s stories.
But there are some definite highlights here that stand up to Bradbury’s best. “Trapdoor” is probably my favorite short haunted attic story. “On the Orient North” makes you feel empathy for a ghost in true Bradbury fashion -- likewise with “Banshee”. Of the non-supernatural stories, “One Night in Your Life” , “Lafayette, Farewell”, and “The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair” will all make you tear up if you’re of a certain age. And “West of October” is a story that only Bradbury could have written. As with his other collections, the overlying themes are of wistfulness, nostalgia, longing, and empathy for those who’ve had life pass them by, whether due to age, mistakes, or death.
Oh, and there’s also the old man erection story, “Junior”. I’m not too proud to confess that I totally missed what was going on my first time through. But -- yeah, it’s there. So while I’d say this is not an absolutely essential Bradbury collection, it’s considerably better than some of the more negative reviews here would suggest, and the high points are very high indeed. If you’re new to Bradbury and looking for your first collection, I’d suggest looking elsewhere (maybe to The Martian Chronicles, Dark Carnival, The Illustrated Man, R is for Rocket, S is for Space….hell, too, too many to list). But if you’re already familiar with most of the “classic” collections, definitely give this one a shot. Any time spent with Bradbury is time well spent.
These stories cover quite a distance in terms of their styles and genres. We go from stories of time travel to gothic horror tales. From stories about a child's imagination to straight romance.
Although I honestly enjoyed each one of these episodes, there were several standouts. "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair" is a pure romance story with no strange, science-fiction, fantasy or horror elements to be seen. But it's one of the most emotional, bittersweet and heartbreaking works I've read by Bradbury. The title story is a nice little bit of time travel fiction about how the past and present influence the future. "Trapdoor" is one of the most fun horror tales I've read in a long while. And "Come, and Bring Constance!" is just a great comedy.
It's difficult to sum up a collection like this simply because of the variety of styles on display. So I'll quote from "Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-made Truly Egyptian Mummy". In this story, in order to liven up a boring, creaky small town, a Colonel and a neighborhood boy fake the discovery of an Egyptian mummy. The mannequin is said to be constructed from:
"a bundle of old Sunday comic pages... a stand of papyrus left in an autumn field long before Moses... a chart-map of Siam, Blue River Nile source... all the confetti of lost trolley transfers... all the crushed flowers from brand new weddings, dreadful old funerals... punched tickets for sleepless Egyptian Pharaoh midnight trains. Written promises, worthless stocks, crumbled deeds. Circus posters -- see there?"
A nice description, not only of the items in this book, but in Bradbury's whole body of work. THE TOYNBEE CONVECTOR is a great place to look if you really want to see the sheer diversity of Bradbury's output.
For convenience's sake, I'm including the table of contents here:
"The Toynbee Convector"
"On the Orient, North"
"One Night in Your Life"
"West of October"
"The Last Circus"
"The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair"
"I Suppose You Are Wondering Why We Are Here?"
"The Love Affair"
"One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!"
"At Midnight, in the Month of June"
"Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned"
"By the Numbers!"
"A Tough of Petulance"
"Come, and Bring Constance!"
"The Thing at the Top of the Stairs"
"Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-made Truly Egyptian Mummy"