McSweeney’s Issue 45: Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven by Dave Eggers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is why we need to have vigorous bookstores and libraries in every neighborhood. I stopped by my local independent bookseller to look for a list of books I was interested in. This book was not on my list, but it leapt off the shelf — the cover picture and title were irresistible. After browsing through it for a few minutes, and despite the fact that there were no reviews on either Goodreads or Amazon (gasp!), I went for it. And how much fun I’ve had since then!
The title (used with Sherman Alexie’s blessing) reveals the origin of this collection. Over the past few years, Dave Eggers came across two out-of-print anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1965 Stories Not for the Nervous and Ray Bradbury’s 1952 Timeless Stories for Today & Tomorrow. He pulled the best from each collection and mixed them together with a few bonus contemporary pieces.
I loved most of the pieces in here, and found myself sharing highlights with anyone who would listen. There are classic science fiction pieces like Roald Dahl’s “The Sound Machine,” where a guy invents a machine that can hear the language of plants, Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian,” about a world where people never stop watching TV, and Julian May’s “Dune Roller,” about a spooky meteor in Lake Michigan. Then there’s Jack Ritchie’s hilarious “For All the Rude People,” where Emily Post hooks up with Rambo. The opening of that story is so darkly delicious, I’ll share it here:
"How old are you?" I asked.
His eyes were on the revolver I was holding. "Look,
mister, there’s not much in the cash register, but take
it all. I won’t make no trouble."
"I am not interested in your filthy money. How old
He was puzzled. "Forty-two."
I clicked my tongue. "What a pity. From your point
of view, at least. You might have lived another twenty
or thirty years if you had just taken the slight pains to
He didn’t understand.
"I am going to kill you," I said, "because of the
four-cent stamp and because of the cherry candy."
He did not know what I meant by the cherry candy,
but he did know about the stamp.
Panic raced into his face. "You must be crazy. You
can’t kill me just because of that."
"But I can."
And I did.
The longest piece in the book is “Sorry, Wrong Number,” an expanded version of a famous Lucille Fletcher radio play about a bed-ridden woman making repeated phone calls to try and locate her missing husband. Although it had a bit too much exposition at times, I loved the premise and the ever-rising tension which, Bolero-like, sucked me into her mounting hysteria.
There are some unexpected names in here, too. Kafka’s got a spot (dark, ornate, but also funny at times), along with Cheever (classic sci-fi thought piece), and a bizarre Steinbeck gem, “Saint Katy the Virgin,” about a holy pig. High hilarity. Finally, there were the contemporary pieces by China Miéville, Brian Evenson, Benjamin Percy, and E. Lily Yu. My favorite was Miéville’s “The Design,” which grapples with one of the coolest ideas I’ve seen in a story in a long time. I can say no more without spoiling it.
Although this collection was all over the place, it felt coherent. Eggers does a great job in the brief introduction of explaining the guiding theme, and the book stayed true to it throughout. He also sets the reader up to anticipate the final story, describing it as “one of the creepiest things” he’s read. Then he admonishes us not to jump ahead, “Whatever you do, make sure you read ‘Don’t Look Behind You’ last.” Throughout the book, I looked forward to the finale, savoring the promised creepiness. It was worth the wait.
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