Dandelion Wine (1957)
Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 2006)
281 p. First reading.
When I was five or six years old I was riding in the car one day with my parents. I remember that I was standing in the back seat, leaning over the seat-back between them. (This was in the days before mandatory seat-belt laws.) We were talking about something or other, and my father said, in passing, “When I was a boy…”. I remember that I began to laugh at him — he was always joking around. “You were never a boy!” I cried, giggling at the absurdity of it. The idea was really funny. At this, I distinctly recall that they both began laughing, but it was a peculiar kind of laugh: they were laughing at one another, around me, not with me. It was a grown-up sort of laugh, and I began to suspect that there might after all be something to what my dad has said. But what?
The memory of this episode is among the most vivid of my childhood; I was delighted to find it represented within the pages of Dandelion Wine. Nor was this the only point on which Bradbury rang the bell of boyhood memory truly. The book is a superb evocation of childhood, with its surprises, unguessed wonders, and adventures. It is the summer of 1928, and young Douglas Spaulding, twelve years old, resident of Green Hill, Illinois, has discovered that he is alive, and is determined to live this summer with his eyes, ears, and heart wide open. His story is told through a series of short episodes, interweaved with glimpses into the lives of other residents of his small town.
What I admired most about the book was Bradbury’s success at capturing the special qualities of childhood: the immediacy of experience, the sense of the world full of possibility, the tireless play through long summer days, the hot nights under stars, the sheer alertness of the mind and senses. I was reminded of Chesterton’s observation, from his autobiography, that childhood is “…like a hundred windows opened on all sides of the head.” Bradbury has thrown those windows open and let the summer air, filled with the warmness of clover breath and the buzzing of bees, blow through his pages.
There is more to the book than summer idylls. There are some dark corners here and there, in this town as in any other. Douglas not only discovers that he is alive, but also that he will one day die. But this only makes each day more precious, and Douglas more alert and alive, treasuring up memories like summer’s yield of dandelion wine: “The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”
My thanks to Janet for recommending this book to me.