I’m not going to review Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, because we’re in negotiations with that book for a very special episode of Literary Death Match (imagine a Mixed Tag-Team Throwdown between classic Coming-of-Age Novels), but I did want to share some of my highlights from the book.
The dialogue is a little hackneyed- with life-changing epiphanies breeding like rabbits at every turn- but Bradbury’s narrative descriptions will make you positively ache with nostalgia for another, simpler time. (See this post from earlier in the week for one example.) Here are some other passages that made me sit up and drink them in twice. All emphasis is my own:
He unscrewed the top of the jar and tilted the fireflies in a pale shower of sparks down the windless night. They found their wings and flew away.
An aunt had arrived and her name was Rose and you could hear her voice clarion clear above the others, and you could imagine her warm and huge as a hothouse rose, exactly like her name, filling any room she sat in.
The eye sped over a snow field where lay fricassees, salmagundis, gumbos, freshly invented succotashes, chowders, ragouts. The only sound was a primeval bubbling from the kitchen and the clocklike chiming of fork-on-plate announcing the seconds instead of hours.
Was she conscious of her talent? Hardly. If asked about her cooking, Grandma would look down at her hands which some glorious instinct sent on journeys to be gloved in flour, or to plumb disencumbered turkeys, wrist-deep in search for their animal souls. Her grey eyes blinked from spectacles warped by forty years of oven blasts and blinded with strewing of pepper and sage…
And then there’s the haunting image of Colonel Freeleigh dialing a stranger in Mexico City to spend the final minutes of his life listening to the sounds of a far away world:
“Listen,” whispered the old man to himself.
And he heard a thousand people in another sunlight, and the faint, tinkling music of an organ grinder playing “La Marimba” –oh, a lovely, dancing tune.
With eyes tight, the old man put up his hand as if to click pictures of an old cathedral, and his body was heavier with flesh, younger, and he felt the hot pavement underfoot.
He wanted to say, “You’re still there, aren’t you? All of you people in that city in the time of the early siesta, the shops closing, the little boys crying loteria nacional par ahoy! to sell lottery tickets. You are all there, the people in the city. I can’t believe I was ever among you. When you are away from a city it becomes a fantasy. Any town, New York, Chicago, with its people, becomes improbable with its distance. Just as I am improbable here, in Illinois, in a small town by a quiet lake. All of us improbable to one another because we are not present to one another. And so it is good to hear the sounds, and know that Mexico City is still there and the people moving and living…”
He sat there with the receiver tightly pressed to his ear.
And at last, the clearest, most improbable sound of all- the sound of a green trolley car going around a corner a trolley burdened with brown and alien and beautiful people, and the sound of other people running and calling out with triumph as they leaped up and swung aboard and vanished around a corner on the shrieking rails and were borne away in the sun-blazed distance to leave only the sound of tortillas frying on the market stoves, or was it merely the ever rising and falling hum and burn of static quivering along two thousand miles of copper wire…Post script: I actually wrote this post Tuesday night, scheduled it for this morning and, sometime in the intervening hours, Ray Bradbury passed away. His death is obviously a great loss for the literary world. If you've got some free time, there are worse ways to spend it than listening to him tell his own story in this video.