Dandelion Wine: A perfectly-distilled small-town summer

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDandelion Wine by Ray BradburyDandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Can you be nostalgic for a place you never lived in, for a time long gone before you were born? I certainly never lived in Waukegan, Illinois in the summer of 1928 as a 12-year old boy named Douglas Spalding, but Ray Bradbury has perfectly evoked a magical world of a long-lost Midwest small town as seen from the eyes of a bright, energetic young boy.

You would think small town life is fairly boring and uneventful, but in the lyrical hands of Bradbury, think again. The short vignettes he tells are always unexpected, and verge from wryly-amusing to heart-breaking to outright terrifying, all because of the skill and love with which Bradbury approaches these characters.

Strangely enough, I didn’t like The Martian Chronicles much, because it merely used Mars as a stage to explore his yearning for a lost time and sensibility, but Dandelion Wine captured me fully and completely, much to my surprise. It is such an unabashedly romantic celebration of the good aspect of small-town values, and such an enjoyable read, that even a hardened cynic like me was unable to find fault with the story.

On a personal note, it actually helped that although I grew up in Hawaii, I spent every summer and winter in small-town Delafield, Wisconsin, where my father grew up, and I saw my grandparents and their neighbors in these stories, and the essential decency of regular folk in the Midwest.

Publisher: Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author’s most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928. Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather’s renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley’s bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future. Come and savor Ray Bradbury’s priceless distillation of all that is eternal about boyhood and summer.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart’s reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle’s 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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2 comments

  1. I started to read this again a couple of years ago. I loved his language! I found he nostalgia a little much, though. Just a difference in taste, I guess.

  2. Yes, Bradbury’s books are generally dripping in (sometimes cloying) nostalgia for the golden age of America, as seen in Midwest small-town life, so I feel like his viewpoint is very skewed. Still, his language and writing skills are so impressive that they can’t be ignored.

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