Thursday, June 7, 2012

Good Short Fiction: The Pedestrian (by Ray Bradbury)

Title: The Pedestrian
Author: Ray Bradbury
Where I read it: Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories (ed. John Joseph Adams)

Imagine living in a society where going for a walk alone at night can land you in a mental hospital. Not a far-fetched idea. Walking alone is a subversive act. Your mind is going in any direction you want it to take. You don't always have a destination or a clear purpose for your walk, so your actions aren't easily accounted for. And you aren't going along with the majority of people, who drive, stick together in groups, share similar tastes, and spend their spare time plugged into mass entertainment. The pedestrian of Bradbury's story, Leonard Mead, is also a writer and unmarried, so his deviancy is off the charts. Who knows what he'll do, roaming the neighborhoods after dark?
He listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.
The Pedestrian isn't a story with an involved plot, but a snapshot of a society where every harmless aberration from the norm is treated as a dangerous mental illness. It's written effectively and hits close to home. It's also exactly what you'd expect from such a story: an artistic individual gently violating the unspoken rules of society while his faceless neighbors stare at T.V. shows. The authorities, when they swoop in, are also faceless. If there's some heavy-handedness in how the story's told I can overlook it, because it's a short piece and the image of the solitary walker pinned by the light of a patrol car is chilling.