This post is part of a series on Ray Bradbury and his book, “The Martian Chronicles,” which will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
This is the last of the short vignettes, as the stories that follow this one are all ‘full’ stories that stand very well on their own. It ties in with “The Luggage Store,” as the outbreak of war on Earth creates a wave of homesickness among the settlers on Mars. It is as though they have been dreaming while on Mars but the sight of the burning Earth wakes them from the dream, and they all think of loved ones they haven’t seen or heard from in while, and that is the beginning of the exodus back to Earth, though of course, not everyone goes …
THE SILENT TOWNS
Without a doubt, “The Silent Towns” was always a crowd favorite among my students when I taught The Martian Chronicles. While the last three stories after this are fairly dark, this one is light and humorous and quite the foil to the atomic-holocaust backdrop that Bradbury has painted for it. What’s more, Bradbury plays on the old “not if you were the last person on Earth” theme (only its Mars, of course) with very entertaining results.
Poor Walter Gripp. He lives remotely and missed all the hubbub and the mass return to Earth. Now he’s all alone. Only, he hears a phone ring & realizes someone else is still on Mars. He desperately hopes that someone is a ‘she.’
It is. It is Genevieve Selsor. Walter tracks her down by calling the largest beauty parlor in a place called New Texas City – after all, where else would a woman be when the world is deserted and she can be anywhere she wants to be? (No hate mail please, this is Bradbury ‘winking’ at the reader…)
Alas, the call is interrupted before they get very far, and a delirious Walter drives the 1000 miles to New Texas City, singing a song of his own making in homage to Genevieve, Oh Genevieve, sweet Genevieve, the years may come, the years may go… I’m not sure why I always found this so amusing, but the image of the already besmitten Walter on his way to see Genevieve makes me chuckle, mostly because I’ve read the story before & know what he’s going to find.
Of course, by now, the reader who has been paying attention knows enough to know what’s coming, at least, she knows enough not to trust Bradbury here. He likes a twist, especially cruel ones, and things can’t end well for Walter, can they?
Well, after finding Genevieve gone from New Texas City, Walter has to drive the 1000 miles back to where he’d been (and to where Genevieve had gone in her own excitement) to finally meet her. Oh, and meet her he does. She’s not quite the dream girl Walter had hoped for. She’s like a dream, as nightmares count as dreams, and she’s both awful to look at and awful to be with.
They spend a perfectly terrible day together, full of much unpleasantness for Walter, and then comes the final straw – Genevieve tells him about the wedding dress she’s picked out. That’s all poor Walter can take, and he makes a run for it, going to his car and tearing out of town.
He puts 10,000 miles between himself and Genevieve Selsor, finds a nice small town, and lives there with enough food and cigars to last as long as he needs to. And as the last line says, “… when once in a while over the long years the telephone rings – he doesn’t answer.”
Well played, Mr. Bradbury, well played.
Next time, we’ll look at “The Long Years.”