Books 26 Aug 2008 08:52 pm

Small assassin


A teaching colleague and friend came across an extra copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury at a used book sale this summer. Knowing that I drool over Bradbury’s work and that I was missing this particular collection — which I check out of the Rodman Library at least once a year — he gave me the copy. It is like Christmas in August, with 100 of the master fantasist’s best stories bundled under one cover.

My schedule is a little hectic to dive into too much free reading, but I couldn’t resist revisiting one of my particular favorites, “Small Assassin.” Readers who know Bradbury only from his wistful sci-fi and fantasy may be shocked by the brutality evidenced here. It’s the story of a young mother who is convinced her baby is trying to kill her. What seems like an allegory for postpartum depression (and hasn’t that been a useful defense for all manner of horrific crimes in recent years?), written long before the term was likely coined, turns into a straight-out horror tale by the last few pages.

Modern readers may also be amused at how much child rearing has changed since Bradbury wrote this. The new mom holds the baby in her arms — in the front seat, no less — while proud papa drives them home. No carseat here. Hubby visits his family physician for advice on his wife’s distraught state, and despite learning that the wife has actually attempted to smother the child with a pillow, the good doctor still cautions prudence instead of calling Children’s Protective Services. Wouldn’t happen that way today.

The story’s resolution actually deprives it of some of its creepy power, as we learn the definitive answer to whether Junior is trying to kill his parents or whether it’s all in Mom’s head. But that’s a minor complaint. Everywhere else, Bradbury — as he so often does — gets everything right. “Small Assassin” equals big horror.

One Response to “Small assassin”

  1. on 27 Aug 2008 at 1.Jack said …

    Just an interesting coincidence. Your Christmas in August came on Ray Bradbury’s birthday. The author celebrated his 88th birthday last Friday.

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