Steven Polansky,
The Bradbury Report
(Weinstein, 2010)

For a lot of its 324-page length, The Bradbury Report is more a book to ponder and admire than actively enjoy. In it, author Steven Polansky creates a near future where cloning has been banned everywhere in the world except the United States, which has jumped into it in a big way: a clone is made from every citizen and kept for spare parts on a reservation out west. Should a citizen become ill or injured, whatever body part needs replacing is taken from his "copy." All copies live under government control in the Midwest. No one has ever seen their copy and no copy has ever seen his original. Other than government agents, the "Dolly Patrol," no citizen has been inside the Clearances, the area where closes are housed and no clone has ever been outside of them.

Until now.

The narrator of the novel, who calls himself Ray Bradbury, is 67 and has lived alone since his wife died in childbirth some 40 years ago. One day he hears from Anna, a woman he briefly dated in college and hasn't seen for 45 years. She informs him that she has become a member of an undercover anti-cloning group and that a clone has escaped from the compound -- Ray's clone. She talks Ray into meeting his clone and going on the run with the copy and Anna. The purpose? He is to write a report about the experience which the underground group will publish and use for propaganda purposes.

These are promising elements, so why did I say that for much of its length, The Bradbury Report is more admirable than enjoyable? Because the clone does not make his appearance until page 174. Until then, we get fictional position papers on cloning, more biography about the characters than we either want or need, personal histories and long sections of exposition delivered in the form of speeches. We also get so much of the narrator's existential despair that it feels as though we've somehow bled into a Samuel Beckett book. Instead of things happening, the first couple hundred pages contain the promise that something will eventually happen.

Once the clone, Allan, enters the story, it becomes a story and we begin to see the reason for all the exposition in the first half. Everything pays off and Polansky is skilled enough and serious enough to refuse to develop his tale in the expected, cliched ways. The Bradbury Report turns out to be a good novel of ideas about love, family and respect, for self as well as others.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

17 July 2010

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