Ray Bradbury – The Cat’s Pajamas

October 24th, 2009

cats_pajamasb I found The Cat’s Pajamas at the Allendale Town Wide Garage Sale two weeks ago. The hardcover cost me only 50¢. It was a pretty good buy for four bits and just in time for October. I figure to read 12 to 15 Bradbury books this month.

The Cat’s Pajamas was published in 2004 and half the stories are fairly recent and half are old, mostly unpublished, stories from early in his career. Ray has a cellar full of stuff that he has put aside. He claims he has written a thousand words a day since he was 12 and that he still has all of it.

I never thought that Ray Bradbury would have a writer’s "trunk", that box of stuff that every writer has that he has written, but never sold, but I can understand now. Ray Bradbury writes what comes into his mind and not all of that is publishable. The first story, Chrysalis, not the one published in S is for Space (he liked the title so he reused it), but one sitting in a trunk, is about a black man who wants to be white. It is not an easy subject even now, but 60 years ago, no publisher would touch it with a ten foot pole.

I can remember finding out from my friend Billy See that he had a sunburn. He was black and I couldn’t tell he had burned, but he showed me his back and the skin was peeling. Black people can be more sensitive to the sun than white people. I never dreamed that Billy could have a sunburn because I connected it to having a tan and Billy had a permanent tan. I remember coming back from a few weeks in South Carolina and Billy laughing at me, saying, "You’re one of us, now" because I had a really dark tan from playing 12 hours a day on the beach.

Bradbury must have had a similar experience, wrote about it, and discovered that editors did not want to publish it. He found it in his trunk and luckily it appears now, more than 60 years later.

Many of the stories in this collection are like that. They are all interesting stories, but each has an element that has kept them out of print. Some of the early stories are not O. Henry-like in that they have emotional impact, but no real plot. I can see an editor who did not really know Bradbury rejecting these stories with a polite note and Ray putting the story away.

Every other story is a more modern story. These are better written and more story-like, but I mostly like the older stories, even with the flaws. The older stories have the emotional intensity, bright colors, scents and sounds, and the dark imagination that marks Ray’s first 20 years. I did like the title piece. The Cat’s Pajamas is very cute story of two people who find a stray cat and fall in love as they fight over who gets to keep it. It is beautifully written, as only Bradbury can write, but the execution is weak. It could have used some rewrites and could have had some stronger points here and there. The young Bradbury would not have let the story away in the version that’s in the book. He would have worked it a little and given it much more impact at the end. As it stands, it is just cute, but not great. I am a cat lover, so I liked it. I am a lover of Bradbury’s stories, so I liked it, but it does have its flaws.

Lastly, there are Bradbury’s poems. They are not to my taste. I skimmed them, but would not recommend them, even to a lover of Bradbury stories.

If you like Bradbury, read this for the old stories, and enjoy most of the new stories.

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