The last time I read Ray Bradbury, the book was Fahrenheit 451. I really liked it, but nothing sparked my interest enough to start reading another of his books. Spurred by something I read about him recently, I thought I would give another of his books a shot. I read the description of Dandelion Wine and wondered how the man who wrote a speculative piece of fiction in which books are forbidden would treat the story of a Midwestern boy’s summer. It turns out that they’re not so different, and he does a fantastic job.
Before I even deal with the overall themes of Dandelion Wine, let me talk about Bradbury’s use of language. I regret not reading him right along now, after experiencing this book. His prose is absolutely gorgeous. The way he goes about describing his characters’ surroundings evokes the feel of a mid-American summer to perfection. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Midwesterner myself, but I can feel the days, hear the cicadas, and see the layout of the town. Green Town exists for me in a way that few fictional locations have when attempted by other authors.
Bradbury also has a remarkable way of regulating what he allows us to know of a character’s mind. Douglas Spaulding, the twelve-year-old protagonist, is a sensitive boy; we know this through his thoughts and his actions. But there are also things that we are never allowed to know about him, such as the extent of what he saw one particular night, and how those things affect his later behavior and health. I thought it well-handled, keeping a sense of suspense that serves the plot well.
The story, on its surface, is that of Douglas and his brother, Tom, during the summer of 1928. Throughout, we follow them on their adventures, but we also see other townsfolk and learn some of their stories, making the book, for all intents and purposes, just as close to a collection of very tightly-related short stories as to a novel. It’s really quite a nice way for Bradbury to present what he wants to convey, since the story really isn’t a coming-of-age tale; or, rather, it’s the ultimate coming-of-age tale — that of handling the most damaging of losses.
Wound through Douglas’ story are shorter tales of unexpected and sorrowful events, forcing the people of Green Town to adjust to new understandings of life. A man builds a happiness machine, only to find that people become miserable when they have to leave it. The cruel disbelief of children crush the self-image of an elderly woman to the point that she denies she ever was anything but an old woman. The entire town faces with hushed voices the horror of a stalking killer of women. Friendships are built, then destroyed through moving and deaths.
Bradbury’s whole story is about fleeting existence. Everything changes, and, overall, everyone dies. No one is immune, and how one handles that fact determines how they will be able to live their life. For Douglas, coming to the realization that he, himself, is alive and thus will die, leaves the reader in serious debate as to how he will cope with it. Bradbury also seems to imply that there are those who become changed by this realization, and that there are others who are either able to take it in stride or never make the mental leap at all. It appears Tom falls into one of those two latter groups, and it would be interesting to see how Bradbury thinks this changes how the boys experience their lives.
Maybe I’m in a slightly morbid mood, but I found Dandelion Wine beautiful. It felt true and fresh to me, exposing me to a completely new way of viewing life. That’s one of the best things a piece of literature can do for someone, and that’s why I like Dandelion Wine so much.