I wish I had saved this one for Halloween time. His book is meant to be read on brisk fall nights, under a blanket, with a cup of hot tea or cider by your side and a jack o’ lantern illuminating the pages. Bradbury is a master of atmosphere, so while I was reading this in my air conditioned apartment during a heat wave, I did feel the chill of an autumn wind blowing. (Probably the A/C was up too high, but whatever!)
I don’t want to give away too much of the lot, as the book is relatively short and much of the suspense comes from wondering what will happen next. What I can say is that Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are best friends, boys at the beginning of their adolescents. Their world is a quaint small town, with many nooks and crannies to be investigated by the duo. One night a carnival rolls into town and the town’s idyllic setting is tarnished.
The book deals with very common human themes, but this well trodden ground feels fresh with Bradbury’s words. Good versus evil is represented mostly through Will and Jim. Will is the golden boy, does what he is told and respects his elders. Jim is more of a rapscallion; in his lifetime, many people have probably used the old phrase “boys will be boys” to explain away his actions. The carnival seeks to push Jim over the edge into darkness and Will’s faith in him will be taxed.
Another theme is youth versus wisdom. Although it’s symmetrically more proper to say old age, the real battle that take place in this book is between the liveliness of youth and knowing what’s what about the world. The age of Will’s father is never revealed, but several mentions are made to him being decades older than most fathers of boys Will’s age. Will’s dad isolates himself at the library, where he is the janitor, as he views views Will’s youth with trepidation. In the end, Will will need this father’s knowledge to help save the town.
Bradbury writes with deliberation; every word has the feeling that it was carefully placed, after being quarried from a far away place and brought to the location by the work of many people – a literary Stonehenge. However, the 50’s Americana slang glibly used by Will and Jim drove me insane. We are so far removed by that era that the sincerity of the technicolor feels forced. The 50’s era has become such a farce in our modern culture; is Grease popular for the musical numbers or for the picture of absurdity of the 50’s that it paints? The 50’s, this slice of Americana apple pie, is too wholesome for today’s world, because we now know it was just a shiny veneer. Reading Will chastise Jim for saying “hell” had me longing for Jim to just say, “Take a rolling fuck at the moon, Will.”