Scott Bradfield Criticism - Essay

Judy Cooke (review date 22 September 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Cooke, Judy. “Private Worlds.” Listener 120 (22 September 1988): 26-7.

[In the following review, Cooke describes The Secret Life of Houses as an impressive first collection of stories that combines elements of both science fiction and the modernist fable.]

[In The Secret Life of Houses,] desperate characters lope across Scott Bradfield's California, intent on pursuing fantasy and apt to destroy anyone whose concept of reality too readily challenges their own. As the psychiatrist says to the murderess: ‘We do it every day … we appropriate the souls and strengths of other people. It's just that most of us don't have to kill them, babe.’ He...

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Roz Kaveney (review date 14 October 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaveney, Roz. “Circumventing Loss.” Times Literary Supplement (14 October 1988): 1155.

[In the following review, Kaveney compares Bradfield's The Secret Life of Houses to Ethan Canin's short story collection Emperor of the Air, focusing on the setting of both collections in California.]

Obsessive sensitivity and sentimentality on the one hand and flash and filigree on the other are qualities much associated with contemporary California. The billing “Californian short story writer” accordingly fosters expectations of a double dose of either or both, accompanied by a sense of dread or déjà vu—neither feeling appropriate in the...

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Robert Sandall (review date 11 December 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Sandall, Robert. “Cliffhangers which Reveal Sheer Madness.” Sunday Times, no. 8575 (11 December 1988).

[In the following review of The Secret Life of Houses, Sandall describes Bradfield's writing as stylish, vivid, and dramatic.]

Scott Bradfield's apparent conviction that California really is a crazy place, that it is in fact one of the world's psychiatric black spots, may or may not be justified but it provides a superb launch-pad for these confident and stylish fictions. The nine stories which make up Bradfield's first book [The Secret Life of Houses] are peopled with a complete gallery of nutcases: from the averagely deluded through the...

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Anthony Gardner (review date March 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardner, Anthony. Review of The Secret Life of Houses, by Scott Bradfield. Encounter 72 (March 1989): 54.

[In the following excerpt, Gardner praises The Secret Life of Houses, commenting that the stories combine a dark sense of humor with a taste for fantasy, without trivializing the serious elements of each tale.]

This collection [The Secret Life of Houses] combines a wonderfully inventive, dark sense of humour with a strong taste for fantasy, and yet manages never to belittle the serious issues in question.

Bradfield prefaces his first tale with a quotation from Nietzsche—“Without the dream one would have found no...

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Mark R. Kelly (review date September 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kelly, Mark R. Review of The Secret Life of Houses, by Scott Bradfield. Locus 23 (September 1989): 31.

[In the following review of The Secret Life of Houses, Kelly praises Bradfield for effectively setting his stories in modern California.]

Scott Bradfield's collection The Secret Life of Houses contains such already well-received pieces as “Unmistakeably the Finest” and “The Dream of the Wolf,” most of which have appeared only in Britain, and three stories original to the collection, which itself is a British publication. This is somewhat ironic since most of the stories concern Southern California, with a knowing but detached perception. (Perhaps they seem more fantastic to the British than to American editors and publishers.) “The Darling” recounts the career of Dolores Starr, a woman abused as a girl who calmly murders the men in her life when they become bothersome. Bradfield saves the story from becoming wholly implausible in a manner that satisfies both his theme and practical plot considerations, with an ironic final twist. “Greetings from Earth” is about a woman who imagines a screenplay of her life, starring Jessica Lange, and whose husband is obsessed with fixing up the family room. This story has almost the only explicit fantasy content of the previously unpublished stories in this book, namely the out-of-body experiences through which she imagines her ideal existence. In “The Secret Life of Houses” a schoolgirl perceives her house, and her life in it, very differently when her mother is hospitalized and she is left to live alone. It's not fantasy or horror in any ordinary sense; the examination of the girl's imagination is interesting precisely because it does not lapse into any familiar genre conventions. In all these stories Bradfield maintains a nonjudgemental, occasionally droll attitude toward California. As in Stephen King's work, there's a healthy sprinkling of brand names for verisimilitude, most very accurate, except for a couple inexplicable references to Chevrolet LeBarons. LeBarons are Chryslers.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Dream of the Wolf, by Scott Bradfield. Kirkus Reviews 58, no. 18 (15 September 1990): 1268-269.

[In the following review, the critic discusses the themes of fantasy and the unconscious mind in the stories of Dream of the Wolf.]

Bradfield follows up his strange and brilliant first novel (The History of Luminous Motion, 1989) with a glittering if uneven collection of 13 short stories [In Dream of the Wolf]—each centered upon a downtrodden loner who retreats into a primordial world of the mind.

In the title piece, a man forsakes his bland everyday life for the wild tundra of his dreams. He dreams of wolves, and in each dream the wolf overtakes the man (“When I dream of the wolf, I am the wolf. I've been wolves in New York, Montana and Beirut. It's as if time and space, dream and reality have just opened up, joined me with everything, everything real”). Here, then, what is real, or hyperreal, to each of Bradfield's characters is the submerged Atlantis of the subconscious. “Sometimes I even travel down there, you know,” says the young protagonist of “Wind Box.” “I move among plates of stone and basalt, past sunken lakes of oil and natural gas.” Sometimes he dreams of earthquakes as he roams his prehistoric netherworld, waking to discover that an earthquake has really rattled L. A. Similarly, a lonely young woman in “Unmistakably the Finest” joins the Worldwide Church of Prosperity and discovers that she can fill her home with the latest expensive consumer goods just by dreaming that she finds them at the top of a winding staircase. In the best of these stories, the dreamers who possess such improbable powers ponder them with wry acceptance. “I'm not saying we should deny the world or anything,” says the superintelligent dog of “Dazzle.” “I'm just saying, let's give our dreams half a chance too. Let's maintain some faith not only in the world but in our dreams of it.”

There are bellyflops among the successes, but, overall, Bradfield, a David Lynch of prose, plies his agile and understated craft to show us the shadowy depths beneath everyday appearances—“everything lived its own life down there in the basements of houses and bodies.”

Sybil Steinberg (review date 28 September 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Steinberg, Sybil. Review of Dream of the Wolf, by Scott Bradfield. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 39 (28 September 1990): 84.

[In the following review, Steinberg criticizes Dream of the Wolf, commenting that Bradfield's writing is characterized by stock characters and thin narrative description, and that many of his stories are alienating to the reader.]

“I don't think you can ever get to know me really well unless you understand I happen to be a very mind-oriented sort of person,” proclaims a character in one of 13 stories collected here [in Dream of the Wolf]. The life of the mind, a rather moribund life played out in Southern California,...

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Donna Seaman (review date 1 November 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Seaman, Donna. Review of Dream of the Wolf, by Scott Bradfield. Booklist 87 (1 November 1990): 500.

[In the following review, Seaman praises Dream of the Wolf for its fascinating prose and eerie, unsettling narratives.]

Bradfield's first novel, The History of Luminous Motion, is an eerie and preternatural tale of a seven-year-old boy who kills people. Murder occupies Bradfield again in this unsettling collection of short stories [Dream of the Wolf]. In “The Darling,” a woman calmly kills the men in her life, while in “Sweet Ladies, Good Night, Good Night,” a man kills a rival. These are premediated murders, committed in a...

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Dorothy Golden (review date 1 November 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Golden, Dorothy. Review of Dream of the Wolf, by Scott Bradfield. Library Journal 115 (1 November 1990): 123.

[In the following review, Golden comments that the stories in Dream of the Wolf are finely written and effectively unsettling.]

California Gothic? Bradfield's West Coast characters [in Dream of the Wolf] are the misfits usually found in Southern Gothic. These Californians, however, are plagued with startling new obsessions. While some of them are simply out of step with humanity, others have completely lost their footing in reality. The stories are unsettling because Bradfield is such a fine writer that he makes even the most...

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Carolyn See (review date 19 November 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: See, Carolyn. “Wolf Dreams Howl with Fears from Life.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (19 November 1990): E6.

[In the following review of Dream of the Wolf, See observes that Bradfield expresses a sense of loneliness and hopelessness through his bizarre fictional characters.]

Scott Bradfield's 13 stories in Dream of the Wolf are strange, weird, bizarre, freaky and right on the money.

In the title piece, a nice man named Larry works in Santa Monica in some hell pit called The Tower Tire & Rubber Co., but lately he's been dreaming of wolves.

As Larry tells his company counselor, “When I dream of the wolf,...

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Michael Upchurch (review date 13 January 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Upchurch, Michael. Review of Dream of the Wolf, by Scott Bradfield. Seattle Times (13 January 1991): K7.

[In the following review, Upchurch offers a tepid assessment of Dream of the Wolf, remarking that Bradfield's short stories are not as good as his novel The History of Luminous Motion.]

With his first novel, The History of Luminous Motion, Scott Bradfield drew readers into a fictional California as sinister and volatile as Nathanael West's. This collection of stories [Dream of the Wolf]—many written before the novel—displays a similar gleeful drkness, but doesn't cast quite the spell that Luminous Motion did. Bradfield...

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Paul West (review date 24 February 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: West, Paul. “The Call of the Wild.” Washington Post Book World 21 (24 February 1991): X6.

[In the following review, West criticizes Dream of the Wolf for its monotonous narratives and artless prose, and further comments that Bradfield overdoes his references to commercial brand-names without delving deeply enough into the psyches of his characters.]

The word “vision” implies things present to the sense of sight, but also things commonly regarded as beyond this world. A writer like Chaucer deals in the first kind of vision and loses something by eschewing the second; a writer like Blake loses something by eschewing the first while achieving huge...

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Elizabeth Young (review date 29 January 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Young, Elizabeth. “Weird Trips.” New Statesman and Society 6 (29 January 1993): 47-8.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, Young asserts that Bradfield's stories are a joy to read, whether ironic and cutting or disturbing and disorienting.]

Spalding Gray and Scott Bradfield are both writers who are extremely sophisticated about fiction. They know exactly what it is and what it should do, how it should be constructed, written and read. They also seem to have a faint, sad sense that most of it will soon be forgotten, that it is all perhaps a doomed endeavour, yet both continue to believe that people need stories. “We tell ourselves...

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Robert Irwin (review date 12 February 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. “Californian Dreams.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4689 (12 February 1993): 22.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, Irwin observes that Bradfield is a fluent and intelligent writer, but criticizes the collection for its lack of variation in narrative voice, emotional pitch, and plot structure.]

Although only “The Flash! Kid” can be reckoned to be science fiction in the strictest sense, several of the items in this collection of short stories [Greetings from Earth] were first published in such magazines as Interzone and Omni, and Scott Bradfield is commonly regarded by science-fiction readers as...

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Kathy O'Shaughnessy (review date 6 April 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Shaughnessy, Kathy. Review of Greetings from Earth, by Scott Bradfield. Guardian (London) (6 April 1993): 9.

[In the following review, O'Shaughnessy offers high praise for Greetings from Earth, calling it a brilliant collection, and asserting that Bradfield's stories are original, witty, and wide-ranging.]

Most of Scott Bradfield's stories [in Greetings from Earth,] are what might be called “whacky”. Characters dream with strange vividness of earthquakes, natural upheavals, or wolves. Others are more than whacky—they're frankly unrealistic: ghosts appear, animals talk. “I mean, my hormones had slipped into overdrive,” confesses...

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Eva Salzman (review date 15 May 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Salzman, Eva. “A Finger in Every Cosmic Pie.” Independent (London) (15 May 1993): 30.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, Salzman comments that Bradfield's stories are imaginative and humorous.]

In Dr. Simonson's West Coast office-come-guest room, original Dalis, Braques and Chagalls co-habit with a Marvel comics collection. This is the Land of the Fruitcakes. This is World Headquarters for the Captain Kirk School of Cosmology. This is California—where else?—and Scott Bradfield's territory in his book of short stories—Greetings From Earth. Laugh if you dare, but there's some fairly deep philosophising going on. Bradfield's...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Greetings from Earth, by Scott Bradfield. Kirkus Reviews 64 (15 February 1996): 260.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, the critic praises Bradfield's skillful prose and effective metaphors.]

[Greetings from Earth includes the] contents of Bradfield's 1990 collection, Dream of the Wolf, plus eight newer stories that continue to explore the fantasies and nightmares of lonely people who surrender to the lure of the unconscious and find themselves figuratively, and sometimes literally, transformed into the persons (or creatures) they've always feared they might actually be. The best pieces here (“Dream of the...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 19 February 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Greetings from Earth, by Scott Bradfield. Publishers Weekly 243, no. 8 (19 February 1996): 209.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, the critic remarks that Bradfield's stories are inventive, startling, and effective.]

Bradfield (What's Wrong With America) is an acutely—sometimes painfully—unsentimental chronicler of our times in these inventive short stories [in Greetings from Earth]. Only eight of these stories are new to publication, but all are startling and effective. Bradfield often uses animals in his fiction, sometimes as recurring metaphors, and sometimes as characters. For example, Larry Chambers...

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Donna Seaman (review date 15 March 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Seaman, Donna. Review of Greetings from Earth, by Scott Bradfield. Booklist 92, no. 14 (15 March 1996): 1239.

[In the following review, Seaman cites Greetings from Earth as a collection of stories “of our time, sharp-edged yet seething with ambiguity.”]

Bradfield's novels, including Animal Planet, veer toward the anarchistic. In his meticulously structured, high-voltage, surprising short stories [Greetings from Earth,] he explores the more instinctive, less “civilized” aspects of our enigmatic natures. Bradfield is a virtuoso of dialogue and a connoisseur of personality, and his narrators are steeped in stress, from the...

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Adam Mazmanian (review date 15 March 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mazmanian, Adam. Review of Greetings from Earth, by Scott Bradfield. Library Journal 121 (15 March 1996): 98.

[In the following review, Mazmanian chronicles Greetings from Earth as disappointing and ineffective, but adds that the volume does contain “a few gems.”]

In this collection of short stories [Greetings from Earth,] Bradfield dilutes the dark satire of his novel Animal Planet with literary aspirations. The result, while often funny, is not as effective. In “Dazzle,” a ennui-plagued dog suffers through psychotherapy and one-sided conversations with less-gifted dogs before going on the lam into the “unfenced world.”...

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Eileen Pollack (review date 30 June 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Pollack, Eileen. “Into the Twilight Zone.” Washington Post Book World 26 (30 June 1996): 4.

[In the following review of Greetings from Earth, Pollack comments that, while Bradfield's fiction focuses on the internal lives of his characters, his stories lack emotionally engaging content.]

In Chekhov's Moscow, people trying to escape the dreariness and deception of their public lives have an affair. In Scott Bradfield's Los Angeles, they engage in out-of-body experiences in which their “disembodied essences” take the RTD bus to Santa Monica or “travel through space like a beautiful angel and walk on the icy moon.”

And here I...

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Scott Bradfield (essay date June 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Bradfield, Scott. “Art on the Short Side.” Writer's Digest 78, no. 6 (June 1998): 23-5.

[In the following essay, Bradfield offers advice to aspiring fiction writers on the art of the short story.]

The best part about being a short-story writer is that there's no chance anyone will try to corrupt you with money. Short stories are never sold in high six-figure paperback auctions; nobody will ever offer you a sizable advance for a short story you're thinking about writing (no matter how many serial-killers you've got in it); and in Hollywood, where producers work hard all day figuring out ways to turn down projects so they don't have to read them, stories are...

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