Every story here has been a passion. Every story here has been written because I had to write it. Writing stories is like breathing to me. I watch: I get an idea, fall in love with it, and try not to think too much about it. I then write: I let the story pour forth onto the paper as soon as possible.
I actually regret choosing this book for the Book A Day challenge. Bradbury is a fine, literate writer, worthy of anyone’s time. However, as a collection of short stories We’ll Always Have Paris is a book that should be read slowly, instead of ploughing through as one might a novel. A short story should be given time enough to breathe and even be read a second time so that none of its nuances are lost. Maybe I should have read the whole thing twice, so. We’ll Always Have Paris is a great introduction to Bradbury for those who are yet to discover him. Known for his science fiction classic The Martian Chronicles or his dark fairy tale Something Wicked This Way Comes, this collection offers more neutral fare with tales of strained marriages, mysterious old men, troubled priests and affairs over mixed tennis.
There is often a surreal tone to these stories, with ordinary lives made strange by small occurrences and random events. Arrival and Departure simply describes an elderly couple swept away by enthusiastic plans for a night out. Hours pass. And they’re back into the same old routine. Troubled marriages are a recurring trope within the collection. Ma Perkins Comes to Stay takes a relationship straining due to emotional neglect and ends with the fantasy lives of lonely souls around America replacing reality. Un-pillow Talk features a friendship that has taken a wrong turn into an affair, and Doubles uses tennis as a metaphor for infidelity. While, the title story, We’ll Always Have Paris, has a married man encounter a stalker of an unusual stripe in the city of romance.
Bradbury mentions in his introduction that his favourite story of the bunch is the first Massinello Pietro, which he has dedicated to an acquaintance. It is a bittersweet retelling of actual events, with an old man being threatened with eviction due to his menagerie of exotic pets and habit of playing old records loudly in the middle of the night. Personally, I enjoyed Pater Caninus, an amusing fable about two priests and a very devout…dog. It has just the right amount of the uncanny. There is a world-weary tone to these stories, with an undercurrent of loss and missed opportunities. Fairy tale romances end with objective certainty but here, life with a loving partner is filled with doubt.
Bradbury is a master story teller who redefined American fantasy and science fiction by injecting it with literary style and well-developed plotting. His influence can be seen in contemporary writers such as Kelly Link, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. Each of them has followed his lead in taking genres known for identikit plots and cardboard cut-out characters and introducing a note of the sublime. In short, Bradbury taught science fiction and fantasy some self-respect.