Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

****(out of four stars)

David and Alice Leiber are a happily married couple. For they have a baby on the way. But after Alice almost dies giving birth to her child, she develops a certain paranoia towards the child. Well, paranoia probably isn't the right word - it could be described as down right hatred for her child.

Alice believes that her new bundle of joy is trying to kill her. David remains optimistic and tries to help Alice through her ordeal. Could it be Postpartum depression? Is she just a paranoid mother? Or is the baby actually trying to kill her?

As the story goes on these questions remain. We're never really quite sure if the baby is a sadistic little killer or not. The plot almost seems impossible to fathom, but the way Bradbury writes, it keeps you thinking about the horrid possibility.

Alice remains cautious about the new born and actually has good reasons for her fear. The child doesn't sleep like a normal child usually does. The little one (jokingly named Lucifer in the story) is always red-faced and out of breath. At night she hears sounds in the hallway and has visions of the baby just staring at her and David as they sleep.

Doctor Jeffers thinks that she still harbors animosity towards the baby for her near fatal experience giving birth. Then, David starts to see little things that makes him think differently. Toys are deliberately left on top of the stairway. The baby cries constantly, causing Alice's health to decline. As Alice's paranoia worsens, David starts to think that she may be on to something.

Later, Alice is killed when she trips over a toy and falls to her death. David seeks the help of Doctor Jeffers who still finds the entire notion unbelievable. He says Alice's accident was just that... an accident. He gives David some pills, rendering him completely useless. He goes home, crawls into bed and sleeps. When Jeffers checks on him the next day, the gas is on in the house and David is dead. By the end of the story Jeffers is convinced that the baby is the killer.

This story may seem far fetched but it really makes you think. In the story, David brings up some interesting points while consulting with Doctor Jeffers. Could it be that an unborn child is resentful for being brought into a miserable world? What if the child has instincts that make him aware of his surroundings? What if he's born with all of this knowledge? You can call it a great imagination on Bradbury's part but as time goes on maybe evolution will answer these questions. Mammals adapt quickly after birth. Insects are born self-sufficient. Is it hard to believe that a child - maybe at least one in a billion - could have the same intuition?

The reason why I love Bradbury's works so much is because he truly makes you think about all possibilities. How many writers can make a new born child a killer and make it believable? This is just another reason why you should read this short story. These stories are as old as World War 2 and they're still much more effective than most of the stuff being printed today. Like the other stories I've reviewed from Bradbury, this one is taken from The October Country.

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