Dandelion Wine is the perfect summer read. Ray Bradbury creates an atmosphere nostalgic for long summer days in the Midwest, reminding the reader all the joy and sorrow of being twelve and truly realizing your alive and realizing you too must die one day.
Narrative & Atmosphere
Dandelion Wine is in some ways a mix of short stories woven together into one narrative. The novel mainly focuses on Douglas Spaulding, a twelve-year-old boy with a ten-year-old younger brother and living in a small Midwestern Town in the 1920s. But other town characters are incorporated into the novel from Doug’s family to Mr. Jonas with his junk-filled wagon, and other characters are given sections that focus quite exclusively on them, though I found all the sections worked together to create a fuller picture of life in the town.
Bradbury incorporates some subtle elements of magic realism—though very sparingly—adding to the somewhat magical atmosphere surrounding summer.
Woven throughout the story are mentions of dandelion wine, mentioned early in the opener and revisited similarly in the closer as summer draws to an end. I quite enjoyed Bradbury’s use of dandelion wine to exemplify the specialness of summer that this novel embodies. However, in the introduction to the version I read, Bradbury explains he sees the dandelion wine as a metaphor, but I didn’t get this metaphor reading the text. This could just be me, but more likely, it seems that this is more of a metaphor of personal significance to Bradbury rather than one that exists in the text as a crucial element for the reader to understand the narrative.
Which brings me to my next point. This book is loosely autobiographical. I knew going in that there were autobiographical elements to the book, but Bradbury explained in the introduction (which I read after the book, and I would recommend reading only after reading the book) which parts were drawn from his life and which parts were fictionalized. Perhaps this is why the book feels so real and magical at the same time. Bradbury is drawing on memories from his childhood, reminding us all what summer as a kid can be like, showing what life in the early twentieth century in the Midwest was like. In many ways, this novel feels nostalgic for a time when life was simpler, more carefree.
Still, the book doesn’t fool itself. Life isn’t all rainbows and daisies. And eventually summer has to end. But Doug takes each event in stride—a reminder that even the bad things in life are what we make of them. Tragedy strikes, but we still have to live, and whether we live in joy or misery is our choice. This too shall pass, and life is what we make of it.
But I didn’t pick up this book because of any of these things. I picked up this book because I’d read Fahrenheit 451 and loved Bradbury’s style. Dandelion Wine continues Bradbury’s lyricism, creating the wonderous atmosphere of summer and capturing what it’s really like to live—what the realist, most alive moments in life are like.
“The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were suns and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts bearing in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened.”Dandelion Wine
The variation in sentence length, interesting diction, vivid description—all these come together to weave a rhythmic, lyrical style that Bradbury uses deftly. Another point in favor of Dandelion Wine as a masterwork in writing with Bradbury as the master himself.
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