Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Today I'm looking at a full-length novel by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. After listening to The Martian Chronicles and remembering how good Fahrenheit 451 was, I decided finding something else by Bradbury was worth listening to. This book follows the adventures of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, neighbors who were born a mere two minutes apart. Will was born a minute to midnight on October 30th and Jim was born a minute after midnight on October 31st, and the boys have been an inseparable team since then. Naturally when a carnival arrives well out of the normal season a mere week before Halloween in their Illinois town, Jim and Will decide to investigate. However, something far more sinister than poorly maintained rides and rigged games is going on at this carnival and Jim and Will have to rely on each other and Will's dad, Charles Halloway, to survive.

There is a lot going on in this book and while personally I really, really liked this book I'm willing to admit it feels a bit rough around the edges. I think the biggest redeeming quality is Bradbury's writing which I think is particularly excellent in this book and manages to keep the story interesting despite him trying to shoehorn multiple things into the book and not really getting to develop all of them. It feels kind of like a Phillip K. Dick novel where he had a ton of ideas and wanted to include them all in the book, but didn't really have the time to develop any of them to their full potential. Of course, this being Bradbury the book feels a lot more put-together than some of Dick's amphetamine-fueled writings, but there are still issues.

Probably the biggest plotline in the book is the topic of aging, which comes across in both subtle and incredibly direct ways through the book. Will and Jim are almost fourteen, leaving childhood but still not quite on the brink of manhood in that frustrating stage of adolescence. We definitely get a sense of that with the ''theater'' that Jim and Will visit, the bedroom window of a house in town where it's all but explicitly stated the boys can view people having sex. Jim finds the theater appealing while it makes Will uncomfortable, which further matches the boys' personalities. Jim is eager to grow older and fully jump into manhood, while Will isn't sure he's ready for that yet. However both boys are aware the best parts of their futures are ahead of them.

This is in direct contrast to Charles Halloway, who's already fifty-four years old. Charles didn't marry until thirty-nine so he feels incredibly old compared to his wife and especially to his son. Charles is still active and healthy, he's not a dottering old man, but the age gap between him and his son feels all the more extreme. An additional side effect of this is Charles has never felt particularly close to his son, because he feels so distantly removed from when he was a boy himself. When the boys find out a carousel at the carnival is capable of altering a person's age the possibilities are tempting not only for them, but for Charles and other people in town as well.

The other main plotline is the sinister elements of the carnival itself, how it feeds on people and twists their hopes and aspirations into empty promises and choices they regret. I feel like this plotline wasn't as well developed and part of that simply was because we don't really see the motivations of the carnival proprietors. I felt a distinct contrast with Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, which contains another evil carnival. In this case we know Cabal's goal is to get a hundred souls by the end of a year in exchange for his own, so we know why the carnival is evil. But in Something Wicked This Way Comes, it's more there's something not quite right about this carnival therefore it is evil. I think Bradbury was trying to develop a deep and complex moral philosophical argument in this book but the opportunity wasn't utilized to its full potential. There is an explanation for the motivations of the carnival shysters but it feels rather vague and nebulous. I honestly feel like Bradbury could have done either the aging plotline or the good vs. evil plotline, but attempting to do both results in both of them being kind of muddied.

And yet, in spite of all this I thought of this book as really good. I don't know if I can quantify it to specific things. Part of it is Bradbury's writing, which manages to create tension throughout the novel and made me interested in what was going to happen next. Part of it is the connection between Will and Charles, a father and son finally getting to bond in spite of the years separating them, which I felt was rather well done. As much of a mess as this book was, I found myself not minding it so much as other books and I'm finding it incredibly difficult to put it into words.

Simply put, I liked this book. It's sinister, it's creepy, it's funny, it's heartwarming, at the end it runs a whole gamut of human emotions. It's a mess, but in some ways it's a good mess. Maybe it just hit me the right way at the right time and I'll always have a fondness for this book as a result. But I definitely think it's worth taking the time to check out on your own.

- Kalpar

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