Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: B

From the front flap:
The carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour of a chill Midwestern October eve. Ushering in Halloween a week before its time, a calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. Young boyhood companions James Nightshade and Will Halloway are the first to heed its call. From a place of safety, they watch a midway come to spectral life, their emotions a riot of eagerness, trepidation, bravado, and uncertainty. For they can sense the change that’s in the air; that this is the Autumn in which innocence must vanish in the harsh, acrid smoke of disillusionment…and horror.

In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery.

There were definitely things to like about this book. Despite a slow start, it worked its way up to genuinely creepy. The best example was an extended sequence that took place in a darkened library, with the evil Mr. Dark slowly, slowly prowling the stacks in search of Jim and Will, all while explaining the horrible fates that’ve befallen their mothers while they’ve been hiding. It was cool.

I also really liked the relationship between Will and his dad, the introspective Charles. Charles married late and was a bit of a mystery and maybe even an embarrassment to his son. As events unfold, they came to understand each other and Charles’ support and belief in the boys’ story meant a great deal to his son. One nice conversation focused on what it means to be a good man, and how that’s not necessarily the same as being a happy man.

So, yes, good stuff. However, the one thing that I disliked was a very major thing indeed: the writing style. I’m sure Bradbury was aiming for a strange and enchanting mood with his colorful prose, but too often it came out confusing and got in the way of the story. Here’s an example:

Will saw that paper frolicked in the trees, its words “the most beautiful woman,” and fever prickled his cheeks. He thought Jim, the street of the theatre, the naked people in the stage of that theater window, crazy as Chinese opera. Darn, odd crazy as old Chinese opera. Judo. Jujitsu. Indian puzzles. And now his father’s voice dreaming on, sad, sadder, saddest. Much too much to understand.

Many times I’d read a bit and go, “Wait, what?” and have to reread it to grasp the meaning. It was like reading Faulkner, and that’s not a compliment. As much as I complain about it, though, there were still some bits of imagery that I liked, like when dry leaves on a sidewalk were compared to scuttling crabs, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. Just occasionally annoying.

I’d tried to read this once as a child and never made it past the opening chapters. I’m glad I gave it another try; underneath all the frou-frou was something worth reading.

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