Monday, February 10, 2014

Prodigy Lost

Night Ride and Other Journeys by Charles Beaumont (1960) containing the following stories: The Music of the Yellow Brass (1959) ; A Classic Affair (1955); The New People (1958); Buck Fever (1960); The Magic Man (1960); Father, Dear Father (1957); Perchance to Dream (1958); Song for a Lady (1960); The Trigger (1959); The Guests of Chance (1956) (with Chad Oliver); The Love-Master (1957); A Death in the Country (1957); The Neighbors (1960); The Howling Man (1959); and Night Ride (1957):

Charles Beaumont's career output would be good for someone who'd lived to be 80. As he died before he was 40 from what appeared to be Pick's Disease and/or Alzheimer's Disease, that output becomes even more impressive given that his last few years saw many of his friends 'ghosting' for him so that he could meet his writing commitments.

Beaumont (born Charles Leroy Nutt) became one of Rod Serling's go-to writers on The Twilight Zone, credited with writing or co-writing 22 episodes. Much of Beaumont's short-story output was in the fantasy genre, with forays into absurdist science fiction and suspense stories with twists. But not all. This volume, collected in 1960, consists almost entirely of stories from Beaumont's breakthrough years into the well-paying slicks, specifically that new magazine on the block, Playboy.

And one can see, in several of these stories, a writer pushing at his own comfort zone, moving away from a strict genre construction of things. "Buck Fever" seems like an homage to Hemingway, but an homage inverted in its view on hunting and the modern man. "Night Ride" and "The Neighbours" have twist endings of a sort, but neither is even remotely a thriller or a fantasy story. And "The Music of the Yellow Brass" seems like a melancholy tip of the hat to Ray Bradbury in his Mexican phase, with a twist that only increases the mournful quality of the story.

It's the genre stories here that seem slight; the much-anthologized "The Howling Man," adapted for The Twilight Zone, seems like something of a gimmick next to the more realistic rhythms of "A Death in the Country." "The Neighbours," while something of a 'preachy,' nonetheless provides strong characterization and much more satisfaction than the similarly structured "The New People."

Many have noted that Beaumont may be one of the most influential fantasy writers of the 1950's and early 1960's because of his naturalistic prose style, concerns with suburban fantasy, and high-profile Twilight Zone output. This collection also suggests a writer in the process of growing despite the commercial success that had already come his way -- it, too, is melancholy, a gesture towards a later career and a later man that never was. Recommended.

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