Friday, November 13, 2009

Complexities in Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

Back in October, Angiegirl (of the Angieville blog) wrote a post called "The Parents of YA"; in it, she talks about how a lot of young adult (YA) books feature crappy parenting (often a necessity for the main character to end up on his/her own to struggle through the world) but then goes on to feature some YA books that offer good parenting (or at least parents who are trying their best).  I thought it was a brilliant post, but I didn't think of continuing the discussion on my own blog because I didn't have much more to add to what she had already said (outside the short comment I wrote on her blog).

But then I started reading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury for the upcoming Good Books Club discussion this weekend and was inspired to write about three types of complexities in the book, starting with one of the parent/child relationships portrayed in the book.

Looking at the title and cover of this book, it seems odd that I'd be using this book as an example of good parent/child relationships, and yet Bradbury beautifully writes the complex relationship between one of the main characters, 13-year-old Will Halloway, and his parents.  As a disclaimer, in my following discussion, I am speaking from the experience of having a prototypical parent experience (i.e., my parents weren't perfect but they also weren't "crappy").

One of the first scenes that touched me is when Will walked in one night to see his parents sitting together in the family room; his mom was happily knitting and humming while his father sat there broodily contemplating a book.  He stood in the entryway, unable to take his eyes off them and came to a realization:

He wanted to be near and not near them, he saw them close, he saw them far.  Suddenly they were awfully small in too large a room in too big a town and much too huge a world.  In this unlocked place they seemed at the mercy of anything that might break in from the night. ... Suddenly he loved them more for their smallness than he ever had when they seemed tall.

Bradbury uses this simple passage to reflect a complex moment in a kid's life: learning that parents are not impenetrable giants but vulnerable people.  Kids reach this knowledge at different stages in life, yet it is an integral moment for any child.  Or maybe I should say "person" because I know adults who still struggle with seeing their parents for who they are--they look at their parents, expecting them to have all the answers, expecting them to save the day, expecting them to live forever.  And here, a 13-year-old boy sums up what people who experience this change in relationship try to say but often can't: you're able to love your parents more deeply when you realize how small they really are.

Later on in the scene, Will is lying awake listening to the sound of his father's voice through the walls.

And the odd thing in Dad's voice was the sound truth makes being said.  The sound of truth, in a wild roving land of city or plain country lies, will spell any boy.  Many nights Will drowsed this way, his senses like stopped clocks long before that half-singing voice was still.  Dad's voice was a midnight school, teaching deep fathom hours, and the subject was life.

I love that portrayal.  Earlier Will had already come to the realization that his father was "small" and yet he still listened for his father's voice, wanting to hold on to his father's words.  Will is on the verge of growing up in this book and has a hard time letting go of childhood behaviors; his father can relate to what his son is going through but finds he cannot communicate well with his son.  Bradbury has a talent for taking horribly complex ideas and expressing them in beautifully constructed snapshots of the characters' lives.

The parent/child relationships are not the only complex relationships tackled in the book; Bradbury also explores the friendship between Will and his best friend Jim:

So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will's along, Will breaking one window instead of none, because Jim's watching.  God, how we get our fingers in each other's clay.  That's friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.

Will and Jim are opposites in every way--including their looks.  That opposite-ness keeps the relationship strong while at the same time breaks it down.  The way he describes friendship as each involved person playing the potter is beautiful yet frightening (perhaps that makes it hauntingly beautiful).  It provides a visual representation that we leave our marks on our friends but also reminds us that who we choose to be our friends will influence who we turn out to be.

Furthermore, the language itself is complex.  I am not quite finished with the book because, at times, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the plot as I get lost in the language.  My inner linguist is being a jackanapes, interrupting my reading flow by wanting to analyze the language because Bradbury's style is simplistic yet otherworldly.  For instance, instead of writing something like "he paused," he writes things like "he waited until his heart beat twice."  My inner linguist rejoices at the literary freedoms taken with the language, but my inner reader shakes her fist at the linguist, wanting to finish the book to see how the story unfolds.

In case you were wondering, I am proud of myself for being able to use "jackanapes" in a sentence after watching it scroll across my computer screen earlier as one of the words of the day on my screensaver.  At least my inner linguist wasn't wearing galligaskins.

Happy reading!


Billy Longino said...

I've had this book on my shelf for years and keep looking at it and considering it, but always passing it up. Now, I'm going to have to add it to the pile of current reads. Have you ever read "The October Country" which is a short story collection of Bradbury's?

"Bradbury's style is simplistic yet otherworldly."
That is the most accurate and awesome description I've ever heard of Bradbury's writing and so precisely what I've tried to say before.

Damn, this blog has completely screwed up my current reading objectives. Weird, I have reading objectives?

PS: Great use of "jackanapes" but "galligaskins" was kind of reaching.

Jessie Sams said...

I have not read "The October Country," but now I will have to look into getting it. I take it you recommend it? Or were you just asking if I had read it? Ah, pragmatics.

I'm glad to have played a part in screwing up your previously unknown reading objectives. And thanks for the compliment on my description of his writing style. I'm now going to go compose a love letter to Bradbury for his description of libraries and of the relationship between Will and his dad (which only gets better as the book goes on--at one point, I had to copy an entire chapter because I liked it so much).

P.S. But really, how was I supposed to fit "galligaskins" in without making it sound obvious? Sounds like a challenge has been issued...

Billy Longino said...

I do recommend "The October Country" it is quite interesting. Bradbury's imagination and descriptions comes across quite well in the short stories.

If you could use the word "galligaskins" in any way, shape, or form and have it not sound awkward I would be amazed.

Lula O said...

Great review! I agree, the parent/child aspect s one of many I liked about this book. I loved getting lost in the language. This is the kind of book you need on a Kindle. So much easier to highlight the passages!

I got to find one of those words of the day screensavers!

Jessie Sams said...

You're right, Lula--I should get this one on Kindle. It would have worked out much better that way than having to type out all those quotes. If you have a Mac, the word-of-the-day screensaver is built in. It's amazing!

Billy Longino said...

No! Don't contribute to the digitization of writing. Books are so visceral. If that makes sense.

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