Monday, October 17, 2011

Countdown: Ray Bradbury's Top 10 Dark Carnival/October Country Stories--#6

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#6."Heavy-Set" (collected in Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales)

"A good Halloween party, with all the apples he took along, and the apples, untied, to bob for in a tub of water, and the boxes of candy, the sweet corn kernels that really taste like autumn....[E]veryone whirling about in costumes, and all the pumpkins cut, each in a different way, and a contest for the best homemade mask or makeup job, and too much popcorn to eat."  At first, this all sounds like traditional holiday fare, but the story that unfolds in Bradbury's 1964 tale "Heavy-Set" quickly veers away from normality.

For starters, the planned Halloween party turns out to be a disaster: none of the handful of people who actually show up even bother to dress in a costume.  No games are played, and couples soon leave the shack on the pier to go walk by themselves down the beach.  Bitterly disappointed, the party's host, Leonard, returns home to sulk.

Thirty-year-old Leonard (also called "Heavy-Set," "Sammy," "Butch,"
"Atlas," and "Hercules" by the high-school boys) is a physical specimen but a social misfit.  A loner who would rather work out with his weights than go out on dates with girls.  His is a case of arrested development, as symbolized by the "mean little kid" outfit he wears to his Halloween party.  The source of his problems is perhaps his clingy, single mother, who at one panicky point
imagines that Leonard will meet someone at the party and never come back home to her again.  Maybe the knowledge that his mom depends on him is the real reason Leonard spurns romance.  One thing is for certain: Freud would have a field day with this parent-child relationship.

"Heavy-Set" is the most understated and ambiguous of Bradbury's Halloween tales.  Is Leonard laughing or crying to himself at tale's end?  Has he climbed into his mother's bed in the middle of the night seeking solace or planning violence?  The story ends with the mother worrying that if Leonard ever stops squeezing those hand grips he's always working, he might seize upon something less
pliable (like her throat).  And in the very last line, Bradbury notes that it was "a long time before dawn"--an appropriately dark note on which to conclude this haunting narrative.

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