Flashback – Dandelion Wine

It’s fitting that I’m reviewing this book today. It is, after all, officially Fall now. And though I know several of my friends greatly enjoy this time of year because it means that we can wear scarves and drink spiced hot drinks I find myself despondent over the close of Summer. I wish I had my own collection of Dandelion Wine stockpiled in the basement to keep away the Winter Blues. Little bottles of liquid sunshine; reminiscent of the bygone days of Summer.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 

This is actually the first complete collection I read. It introduced me to a wonderfully “down-home” Bradbury. The premise of the collection is set in 1920s Green Town, Illinois and young Douglas Spaulding in particular. The name of the collection is described in Douglas’ words as: “Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

It’s a beautiful, fantasy filled romp through the last days of childhood. And though the time period was some 80 years before I read it, I felt connected to the story. It brought me back to the year we lived behind my grandparents in a camper. We planted rows of vegetables that we ate almost straight out of the ground. We had a fire every night and roasted marshmallows quite often. My bed was the couch and we had a little barn storage unit that was our closet. We were right on the edge of the woods and every day I would sneak back there and try to walk around as quietly as possible. I also remember eating a lot of cornbread. I learned to drive the 3wheeler then. I know now that it was a rough spot financially for my family, but I loved every minute of it. It was like an adventure all the time. (And it could be why I’m fascinated by Airstreams and want to live in one).

This idyllic, rural setting pulled at me. I rediscovered some of the memories of my childhood. And vicariously experienced some of the more terrifying tropes that are popular in small town fiction. There is a dark scary ravine that shatters one child’s understanding of invincible parents. Much about the children’s lives hinge upon the availability of ice cream. There’s also a surreal element established by the technology of machines that are built or used in the town. Douglas and his brother Tom continually reveal a magical understanding of the world and occasionally older people in the town reinforce this idea (mostly their grandparents). The main element of the story is Douglas’s slow awakening toward adulthood. Some of the things he learns are too heavy for a child to be burdened with, and Bradbury saves him, but allows the reader to experience the sadness.

What sounds and smells pull you back into Summer? In Florida it’s virtually Summer year-round, but there are certain things that make it clear that the freedom of Summer is actually upon us. What’s your favourite part?

Dandelion Wine is packed to the brim with nostalgia, melancholy, and wonder all wrapped up in vividly developed characters and a realistic setting. Several of Bradbury’s other collections revisit Douglas and Green Town. There’s even a sequel: Farewell to Summer. As with any Bradbury novel Dandelion Wine met with some harsh criticism. However, it completely captured my imagination.

I believe reading Bradbury has taught me the most about being a writer. He opened my eyes to the fact that you can learn to be a writer by reading other writers. I do not mean copying those authors you admire, rather reading them in order to discover the elements that make a story click together. That’s at least what I think I’ve been learning. It is definitely a major motivation in reading all that I read.

The week of Bradbury has finally concluded, I believe. I can’t promise I won’t talk about him again. But I’ll try to let enough time pass. I’m off now to listen to my new Thrice album and keep people safe as they swim. You enjoy your Friday. And maybe check out the Marksmen show tonight. That is, if you enjoy good music.

Cheers!

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