Summer Morning, Summer Night [Paperback] Review

Summer Morning, Summer Night [Paperback]Ray Bradbury loves to write stories of small American towns in the Midwest, swathed in colour, magic and sunlight. And that's basically the entire content of "Summer Morning, Summer Night" -- exquisitely written little nuggets of ordinary experiences, with an element of magic and mystery woven into them like golden threads.

A number are vignettes without much actual plot -- a young woman going for a nighttime stroll meets a lover, a loaf of bread brings back memories of childhood summers, a teenage girl have has first kiss with a new boyfriend, an aged woman looks through old calendars full of forgotten memories, old people recount important deaths, and a middle-aged man falls in love with a beautiful young woman he sees in passing.

Then there are the full-blown short stories. Here a chaste romance blossoms between a teacher and her brilliant young student, a beautiful woman's memory lives on long after her death, an elderly woman's long-lost lover may have returned, a spinster seeks perfume, and two old sisters make a secret "love potion" with some unwanted results.

There's no straightforwardly fantastical elements in this book, but there are moments of horror and comedy. On one hand, we have stories where a young girl hears a woman shrieking underground, and a serial killer's excited chase of a woman he's stalking. On the other, a family's scheme to get a pretty cousin married off backfires, and a couple of sweet old people have a day out shopping and having fun.

"Summer Morning, Summer Night" is sort of a Ray Bradbury mosaic -- lots of little fragments making up a sun-filled, warm, shimmering summertime filled with shady trees and warm nights. It's a little like visiting Bradbury's nameless small town for a week at its most lovely, absorbing some of the history of the people there, and then drifting back out.

One thing has never changed is Bradbury's vivid, lush prose ("they were a trio of black velvet and white ermine conspirators, half moon, half shadow"), which is steeped in nature metaphors ("as fine as a maple leaf between winds that blew just right"). His writing is precise enough that he can tackle a taboo subject -- such as love between a teacher and student -- without inspiring outrage.

And he drops in plenty of symbolism -- new shoes, dismantled porches, ribboned hats, first kisses ("it tasted like apricats and fresh apples and as water tastes when you rise at night...").

As the final touch, Bradbury's characters are a colourful, varied lot -- teenage girls, serial killers, legendary beauties, middle-aged men and small children vowing to never forget this summer. Bradbury seems a bit preoccupied with mortality, since many of his characters here are troubled by life and love in their middle or twilight years -- except maybe the Alexanders, who seem happy to frolic into old age together.

Warm, mellow and sweet as an apple, "Summer Morning, Summer Night" is a series of tiny portraits of small town life. But Ray Bradbury manages some surprises along the way.

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