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Uncle Einar – Help from Ray

Uncle Einar isn’t a short story. Not really. It’s a poem and a faerie tale wrapped into one. In it, a winged man – Uncle Einar – bemoans the fact he can no longer fly at night. A brush with a high-tension wire has taken away his sonar. Grounded, he marries and raises a family, and it’s his children who break through his funk. Posing as their kite, he can fly in broad daylight and not be concerned about fearful human eyes falling upon him.

Clearly Ray Bradbury didn’t intend for “Einar” to be taken as realism – more like “Magical Realism”, the brand of fiction later popularized by Latin authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story doesn’t convey a plot so much as it does a notion – the notion that flying men exist and magic is a concrete thing. Still, there are tangible, relatable feelings at work here, too. Einar’s depression is the same one every man feels after he’s taken a wife and procreated. He wonders if his best days are behind him and if he’ll ever be vital and free again like he was.

With a few pages – and with an economy and precision of language – Bradbury sketches a world that isn’t real, but feels like it could be.

I read Uncle Einar in the collection The October Country.

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The Small Assassin – Help from Ray

I’ve been struggling lately, and I need mentoring. I’m a writer so I don’t have to seek guidance from a live human if I don’t want to. I can look to the past. If I need help, I can read.

Ray Bradbury has always been an inspiration to me. His writing – at its best – is deeply human and poetically simple. But his catalog is deep and I don’t want to read it all. I therefore took the scientific approach: I Googled “Best Bradbury Stories”. Here, culled from a few sources, is the list of short works I settled upon:

  • The Lake
  • The Small Assassin
  • Uncle Einar
  • And the Rock Cried Out
  • The Fox and the Forest
  • Somewhere a Band is Playing
  • Zero Hour
  • Frost and Fire
  • The Crowd
  • Banshee
  • There Will Come Soft Rains (from The Martian Chronicles)
  • The Fog Horn
  • The Night
  • I Sing the Body Electric
  • The Pedestrian
  • A Sound of Thunder
  • The Golden Apples of the Sun
  • The Whole Town’s Sleeping
  • The Rocket

Via this list – arrived at by strangers – Ray Bradbury will speak to me from the other side. Given the generous advice on craft he offered while he was alive, I expect he won’t mind the imposition.

The Small Assassin has an absurd premise – a newborn conspires to murder its parents. It’s a hard sell, but Ray pulls it off by not leaning overhard on the gimmick. A less skilled writer would’ve showcased the infant slithering around the darkened home laying its traps. Bradbury does none of that. Instead, he  writes about what matters – the fear and paranoia of the new mother; her certainty that her son is her enemy. Eventually, that fear spreads like a virus to the father and even to the couple’s doctor. The story does exactly what it’s designed to do – it imbues the mundane with otherworldly horror.

This was a good place to start.

I read The Small Assassin in the collection The October Country.