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Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I have to confess, I've only read one Ray Bradbury novel in my entire life, and it is, of course, Farenheit 451, which I read in high school with everybody else. Now, I haven't read Farenheit 451 in a long time, so I barely remember the writing or narrative styles, certainly not in any detail, but when I picked up Something Wicked This Way Comes, hoping to find it to be a spooky read perfect for Halloween, I was a little surprised at it.

Now, don't get me wrong--Something Wicked is actually quite spooky. The story centers around two young boys named Will and Jim who are about to turn fourteen and, thus, become real adolescents. They have innocence to lose, and lose it they will, because the carnival is coming, a Dark carnival--literally, a carnival run by a man named Mr. Dark. Away from the melee of the town's new attraction, tucked deep in the library where he serves as the janitor, Will's father, Mr. Halloway laments his old age and feels unconnected to his son, whose youth he envies. Will and Jim quickly discover that the carnival is evil, and that the townspeople are being lured into giving up their souls in exchange for their hearts' supposed desires. Knowing that Will and Jim are hip to their jive, as it were, Mr. Dark is determined to do them harm, especially Jim, who is much more enticed by the carnival's offerings and clearly in danger of being drawn into Mr. Dark's web.

Also somewhat in danger is Mr. Halloway, who has desires only the carnival can fill. The boys, running from Mr. Dark, come to Will's father for help, and this is where the book goes a little off-kilter. For, at the end of the day, there are two things about Something Wicked that struck me as unexpected when I was reading. First was the strange rhythm of the language; it's more poetry than prose in places, and though not in verse it does give you the frenetic sense of wanting to be read aloud. And second, Something Wicked is a straight up allegory and, in its worst moments, a boring morality tale. By the second half of the book, Bradbury really makes no bones about telling you that. There's an entire scene (long scene) in the library where Mr. Halloway lectures Will and Jim on the history of evil, and the rest of the narrative is quickly consumed by Mr. Halloway's struggle to defeat Mr. Dark and his horrific carnival cronies and save the soul of his son (and his son's friend, although sometimes I wonder if he cares so much about Jim).

Everything ends on a happy note; Mr. Dark and his carnival are banished (at least for now, Mr. Halloway makes a point of saying (READ: EVIL NEVER DIES)), and Will and Jim are none the worse for their brush with darkness, except that, due to a magic merry-go-round that makes you age or become younger depending on which way it spins, Jim is now like sixteen or seventeen and Will is fifteen. Because their experiences have made them mature beyond their years or something. It was sort of confusing.

Anyway, I don't mean to dismiss this book; it's actually pretty great, if you can get into the rhythm of the writing (which some people in my book club found to be a struggle) and you can either buy into or ignore the straightforwardness of the good vs. evil allegory. I actually liked that bit, but it can be something of a distraction. The book could also be like 50-75 pages shorter. But it was a fantastic Halloween read; I devoured it in its entirety on a London to New York flight and it kept me turning pages the whole way, and it gave me, if not nightmares, then very strange and ominous dreams, which means it definitely did its job in scaring the pants off me. Mission accomplished, Bradbury, mission accomplished.

(Coda: You know what I could have done without? The humble-brag author's note in the back that explained why Something Wicked This Way Comes is dedicated to actor Gene Kelly. Didnt notice, Bradbury! And don't care.)

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