There is no denying that the works of Ray Bradbury, from FAHRENHEIT 451 to THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, are literary classics. This month, the author of over 30 magnificent works adds another wonderful collection of short stories to his list of accomplishments. THE CAT'S PAJAMAS is a collection of twenty-two pieces spanning six decades. For the Bradbury fan there are the familiar characters of space travelers, wide-eyed children, small town folk and strange happenings. For those reading Bradbury for the first time, this is a fine introduction to the trademark style: sweetness mixed with sorrow mixed with strangeness and wonder.
Most of the tales in THE CAT'S PAJAMAS are quite short. Still, most of them pack a punch. In "Chrysalis," written in the mid-1940s, Bradbury addresses racial tension and inequalities in America when a white boy spends his summer tanning on the beach and turning as dark as his black friend only to be able to shed his dark skin at summer's end. Another story, "We'll Just Act Natural," also addresses racial issues as an African-American maid awaits the arrival of the white boy she helped raise. Does she mean as much to him, Bradbury asks, as he means to her? One of the most clever and enjoyable stories is "Hail to the Chief." In this piece, a drunken U.S. politician gambles away the country at an Indian casino, changing the future of the nation and inadvertently rectifying old injustices.
With Bradbury one expects flying saucers, creepy tales and strangers arriving in the night, and THE CAT'S PAJAMAS offers all those, too. In "Sixty-Six" a policeman is haunted by images of the dust bowl along a lonely stretch of highway. "A Matter of Taste" finds human space travelers encountering a kind and intelligent race of giant spiders.
However, these types of stories are outnumbered in this collection by the other type of fiction Bradbury does so well: nostalgic and interesting, always leaving the reader something, an idea larger than the story itself, to think about. In the title story, two strangers meet and find that they have much in common after coming across a kitten in the middle of the road. "The House" is a short tale about a newly wed couple who must begin to learn to see things the same way in order to create a future together. In these stories, and so many others in this collection, Bradbury successfully captures the moment when possibility with a capital "p" lays before each character, inviting them to make a momentous decision and perhaps change their life and definitely alter their outlook.
The interesting thing about this collection, besides all of Bradbury's original ideas, is that the stories here were written over such a span of time. It is not so much that he has been writing so long and had success over that time, although that is an amazing thing in and of itself. It is that the stories at once are works of their eras and, at the same time, transcend time. Bradbury has remained true to his style and his visions.
While THE CAT'S PAJAMAS is not the masterpiece of his career, it is a solid work that is sure to please his fans and create new ones. It is always a pleasure to read Bradbury, and this collection does not disappoint. The final piece in the collection is a tribute to his favorite writers, including Twain, Dickens and Shaw, in verse. No doubt, someday many renowned writers will be writing the praises of Bradbury and imagining themselves in his delightful company.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 12, 2011