I rarely read the same book twice and I don’t always read the latest thing. I like snooping around independent book stores for new and used treasures. I read everything from classics to junk (only the finest junk, of course).
But the most recent treasure I discovered was on my own bookshelf. I’d read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine many years ago and loved it enough to keep it, but the more time went by the less I remembered why. At last, I could recall almost nothing about the book. That’s the perfect time to reread. It’s as if you’re reading for the first time and indeed you are, because you’re a different person now.
Bradbury is remembered as a science fiction writer but he was much more. Dandelion Wine is a fictionalized memoir of his boyhood, told in separate stories strung together to make a whole. The tales are set in the Midwestern hamlet of Green Town (aka Waukegan, Illinois). There’s magic in this town. I know because I grew up in one and although Bradbury came long before I did, the magic was still there and Bradbury recalls it for me. His opening scene, one of picking wild berries in the woods with his father and brother, is reminiscent of treks my siblings and I once took with my father. We’d walk along country roads and pick wild blackberries by the bucket, or traipse through the woods to pluck pails and pails of walnuts off the crunchy autumn ground.
Through several citizens of Green Town, including 12-year-old Douglas, his stand-in protagonist, Bradbury reaches poetic heights while telling down-to-earth stories of the summer of 1928. A boy covets a new pair of tennis shoes. The elders sit on night-time porch swings and tell stories. The junk man gives the kids more than just artifacts he finds. A boy reflects on the last run of the trolley:
The first light on the roof outside; very early morning. The leaves on all the trees tremble with a soft awakening to any breeze the dawn may offer. And then, far off, around a curve of silver track, comes the trolley, balanced on four small steel-blue wheels, and it is painted the color of tangerines…Down the long elm-shadowed streets the trolley moves along, the motorman’s gray-gloved hand touched gently, timelessly, to the levered controls.
Bradbury finds both the sweet and the sinister in his quiet town with its small movie palace and dusty streets. Somewhere, perhaps in the dark Ravine, lurks “The Lonely One,” a murderer who brings intrigue to the idyll. A climactic story in Dandelion Wine is of a woman who refuses to be afraid of this killer, then meets him. Or does she? The suspense made my breath go shallow.
Bradbury’s magic heightens his stories to somewhere between reality and dreams, a realm children visit whenever they like and where a lucky adult may go if she’s willing to give herself over to a great writer. I want to savor the language and then again I don’t—I must rush through the story to see what happens. So I do that, then return and reread for savoring.
I suppose most authors draw on personal experience and Bradbury is no exception. His debt to Dickens is also clear in his stories (as is Stephen King’s debt to Bradbury). Bradbury reminds me that I miss the fireflies of northern Illinois, and although my town had no penny arcade I do miss the roller rink, which was not the nicest place in town. Perhaps Bradbury’s words will remind you of your local ball field, or the dog you loved as a kid, or an alley where the bullies hung out. Whatever it is, he will take you to that other realm where you might just see your childhood self and where your adult, the person you are now, will appreciate him as never before.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.