Douglas Spaulding of Green Town, Illinois, is about to embark on his grandest adventure — the summer of 1928. For a boy of twelve, magic is everywhere, from gathering dandelions for his grandfather’s dandelion wine, to finding a human time machine in an old man in the neighborhood who can take you to the Civil War, to a new pair of tennis shoes that will help you run faster and jump higher than ever before. But Douglas also learns about life and death and loss when a fortune teller in the penny arcade breaks down and his best friend moves away.
This semi-autobiographical work of Bradbury’s own childhood is an enchanting recollection of boyhood, and summer, and a golden era of America. Through Douglas’ eyes, we are able to experience magic in the everyday and nostalgia for a simpler life. My favorite aspects are the magical realism, including the Happiness Machine his father builds and a pair of star-crossed lovers born decades apart, but it’s the coming-of-age awareness-of-mortality that is the heart of this novel that feels more like a collection of short stories.
Bradbury manages to create a book that is a time machine in its own right, but one that does not quite ring true for me. It is not an accurate portrayal of the times, largely ignoring any social or political issues with which a young boy may not be concerned. Instead, Bradbury bottles an immensely sentimental (even occasionally a little saccharine) and nostalgic summer of sunsets over fields of swaying grasses with lazily buzzing bees drifting about. It is sweet and whimsical painting, without any real plot or character development, of a young boy I never knew.
Highly recommended for fans of Americana, particularly those who grew up in a small town and remember it fondly! If you like a little more magic to your realism, I recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes or The Halloween Tree.
“The first thing you learn in life is you’re a fool. The last thing you learn in life is you’re the same fool.”