In discussions about books, one comes across the phrase ‘a coming-of-age story’ rather too frequently. However, this book is one of the best instances of this well-worn story pattern I’ve ever come across.
The book’s quasi-protagonist is Douglas Spalding, a 12 year-old boy who has just discovered that he is alive. I say ‘quasi’ because the book is by no means just about him. It is also about his brother, Tom, and about so many other members of the town they live in and reads more like a book of short stories than a novel. We see the individual summers of various characters in Green Town and we see them through Douglas’ eyes as the people and events start to shape him into a young man. He slowly matures, becomes self-aware and finally realises and accepts his own mortality.
Some of it was very moving, such as the section about Douglas’ friend who is moving away and the part with the junk man towards the end. Some of it is incredibly suspenseful, like the climax of the Lonely One storyline. And some of it is somewhat bizarre in a very Ray Bradbury way, more metaphorical than anything, like the happiness machine and the parts with the wax fortune teller.
This is the third Ray Bradbury book that I’ve read (the other two being Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles) and it’s definitely a departure from what I expected. Apart from the brief appearance of the happiness machine, there is nothing which could remotely be described as science fiction. Instead it is just a portrait of a town in 1928 Illinois, a snap shot which captures the days in the same way as the bottles of dandelion wine for which it is named.
As always, though, Bradbury’s writing flows with the fluency and ease of someone completely in control of the English language who wants to take the reader on a journey of discovery which is not only enjoyable and interesting, but beautiful.