Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes (Book Review)

Something Wicked This Way Comes cover

Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes

I’ve read a lot by Ray Bradbury, but not for years. I just tried Something Wicked This Way Comes, his most famous work that I hadn’t read yet. I’m glad I did; The style was, if anything, more lyrical and over-the-top than I remembered, but he writes with a confidence that makes it work. As a meditation on aging, both for young boys growing up and men looking back on their youth, the unironic intensity of his purple prose is effective. It’s a heady, memorable read.

The book does get weaker as it goes on, though. It starts as a beautiful description of the unknown territory that comes with growing up, and gradually turns into a fairly clichéd story about good versus evil. While it’s lowest points still make a satisfying 1960’s pulp novel, I feel like I only got glimpses of the book that the opening chapters promised.

The initial protagonists are 13-year old friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, whom the book comes right out and introduces as a innocent do-gooder and a darker, wild spirit. (You can guess which is which from the names.) But at that age, their incompatibility is abstract and they are great friends, despite the stresses it sometimes causes. Best of all, their entire world is viewed through a lens much like a Bradbury fantasy. Even before the coming of the mysterious, sinister circus that gives the book its threat, Jim and Will act like they are in a world of magic. (For example, a nearby house referred to as “The Theater” is apparently a home for mundane swingers, but after catching a glimpse through the window, the boys see hints of mysteries that threaten to tear their friendship apart.)

As the story goes on, Will’s father Charles Halloway takes the lead. A fairly obvious stand-in for Bradbury himself, Charles confronts his own midlife crisis with circumspect, flowery speeches and becomes the perfect hero for the boys when their struggle turns out to hinge on the philosophy behind morality. (Debate still rages on about whether Bradbury was a science fiction or fantasy writer, and this book makes a good summary for each side. The story is purely fantastical, but it portrays the love of ideas, and even more so of talking about those ideas, that dominated classic science fiction.)

Charles’ speeches are often ridiculous, especially when he admits he’s rambling away while they are under a tight deadline. However, the changing relationship between the father and son, especially the aspects they can’t express, is probably the best part of the book. Bradbury’s abstract prose is the only way I can imagine to portray that existential longing crossed with old-fashioned familial love.

Something Wicked is well worth reading despite its disappointments. In fact, those failures help to emphasize the open-ended nature of the book’s big questions. In a paradox that feels very appropriate, I want to say that this story will stick with me for a long time even as I feel it slipping away like a dream a week after finishing it.

Grade: B

 
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