When Ray Bradbury died Entertainment Weekly listed some of Bradbury’s books that their readers might not have read. These were not the classics, but more like hidden gems for readers to discover. From the Dust Returned was one of the books listed, which is what drove me to pick it up.
From the Dust Returned is the story of a house filled with ghosts, the undead, and other supernatural creations. There is one human living with them, a young orphan boy named Timothy, and it will be his fate to write about them.
For me, upon my reading, I had two reactions. First, I am not sure why Entertainment Weekly listed this as one to discover. I could have easily named a handful that would have fit more perfectly into that distinction (Did they just call the publisher? Did they just Google?). The second is the untapped potential for the work, leaving me with the feeling I read the shadow of a good book; not the good book itself.
Ray Bradbury stated that he had spent fifty years working on this book, but with an imaginative mind like Bradbury I really have no idea what that means. He was always creating, always generating works. Chances are, for me, when a book is not being moved forward it is for a good reason, I am waiting for that lightning bolt to truly ignite the creation with a Frankenstein scream of “It’s alive!”
The book, like many of his others (including The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine), is built out of short stories, interwoven to make up a whole. There are a few problems here though that his other collections never had:
- Many of these short stories have been published before, giving the reader a strong sense of déjà vu. For example, two of the stories (“Homecoming” and “Uncle Einar”) appeared in the far superior collection, The October Country.
- These stories cover an expanse of his writing career from one of his earliest collections (Dark Carnival) to one of his later (The Toynbee Convertor), which means for the astute reader Bradbury’s voice changes, because all writers’ voices change over time (It’s just a part of life). For some this might not be a big deal, for me it was very distracting.
- The logic of the inclusion of the stories doesn’t always jive with the rest of the book. For example, the short story “On the Orient North” is the story of a ghost trying to travel across Europe and the presence of people is damaging him. It is a difficult struggle for him and at the end of the story he luckily arrives in England… so why does he continue on and then end up in a house in Illinois in the next chapter? It doesn’t make sense.
- The final problem has to do with the short story characters. Characters in the stories don’t always continue into the rest of the book. So it is like a main character arrives for one chapter and disappears (The inclusion of the story “West of October” and Grandpere is a great example of that). It feels very disjointed.
Because of these issues, it becomes very obvious when we as readers are jumping from a short story to the very shorter “filler” chapters.
At the end of the book, the house is abandoned when the local town discovers it thanks to a new evil character that appears in only one chapter. He tells the sheriff that the house is one filled with sin and wickedness. Really? Where? I couldn’t find one example of that in my reading. Yes, they were ghosts and ghouls, etc., but they don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I didn’t see any blood sacrifices or torture in these pages. No one disappears never to be seen again. This is the equivalent of visiting the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, and who wants to get rid of that amazing place? The ghosts sing!
By the end, I wondered how much Bradbury really had of his heart in the creation since there was so little of his unique literary descriptions in it. You would think a mind like Bradbury’s would relish describing the house and every one of its hundreds of occupants. But he strangely doesn’t do it all that often. The absence of it is almost startlingly. We are even told very little of Timothy’s “mother” and “father” in the house, which I thought would have been devilishly fun; describing the worse kinds of ghouls to be parents and then show their loving side. I mean, just look at this speech his mother gives to Timothy:
“We love you. We all love you. No matter how different you are, no matter if you leave us one day” She kissed his cheek. “And if and when you die your bones will lie undisturbed, we’ll see to that, you’ll lie at ease forever, and I’ll come to see you every All Hallow’s Eve and tuck you in more secure.” (Page 68).
That is great!
Look at how masterfully he splits the speech you would hear from any good mother to the more creepy and haunting part with a kiss. That is wonderful. But, as I said the book is filled with potential just like this.
Maybe if it had an overarching plot; maybe if the stories were not already in print or were connected more soundly with the rest of the book; maybe if he took the time to breathe life into more of the house and its occupants; maybe… I could go on because there are a lot of maybes, but that is all I am left with after my reading.
I really wanted to love this book, right from the cover the possibility of greatness screamed at me (shrieked would be better, I guess, right?). I wanted to discover a lost treasure of Bradbury, a later book of his I never read, to reconnect with a writer I was once obsessed about, who inspired me. It is just that From the Dust Returned is not that book.
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!