Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I am not a summer person, but this book makes me wish I was. The lazy days of summer, of enjoying the heat instead of feeling oppressed by it. Running all over town with my friends, disbelieving that the adults around me ever did the same. Bottling dandelion wine against the winter, when each day of summer will be drunk and remembered anew.

While not laboriously set up as a collection of short stories, that is nonetheless what this is. The stories flow into one another, as the days do, but there is definitely a short fiction feel to it. As to genre? Well, it's not science fiction, with the possible exception of one story. It's not really fantasy. But fantasy and science fiction sort of hang around the edges, and the stories that are being told could have a bit of a magical realism tinge to them, or they could simply be how a twelve-year-old boy experiences the world.

It's a small town kind of lazy summer, in the era when streetcars are being decommissioned and replaced by much less romantic buses. When the happiest man in town decides to build a happiness machine, but his wife isn't interested.

There is also the time machine that the kids can ride in by listening to the reminiscences of the retired military man in town. Or the way that same military man transports himself to locations he hasn't visited in many years, much to the distress of his nurse. There's the old lady whom the children can't believe was ever young like them, and they start to making her doubt it too.

There is a bittersweet romance between a young journalist and a much older woman. There is the threat of violence in this small town, as women disappear in the Ravine and are found dead. There are the stories of the main character Donald, realizing that he's alive at the start of the summer, and the accompanying discovery later that he will die some day. There's the junk man, bringing just what people need from far away. Best friends move away.

These are lazy sorts of stories, that just exactly fit the weather they're describing. They might be menacing, sad, melancholy, or bittersweet, but never hurried. Bradbury is bringing his best prose to this work, and it shows.

I recommend reading this one out on your own porch (please tell me you have a porch. I do not have  a porch, and feel the lack). On a hot sunny day, drinking a glass of lemonade and letting the hurrying world slip beyond the edges of your vision and you expand into the day and drinking in it, the lemonade, and the book.

Or in the depths of winter, to recapture a warm flush of what summer was like, has been, and will be again. Taking a sip of the dandelion wine, and remembering.

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