Author: Ray Bradbury
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Pages: 293 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
Elle Tea’s Score:
“The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. 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. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes… and the stuff of nightmare.” – from the Amazon summary.
I’ve really been wanting to be WOW’D by a book for a while now. I don’t mean that sort of, “Oh, that was a good read,” sort of feeling. Nay. I’m talking about that, “Oh my god, I can’t put this down, I have to read it all right this second, I love this book, I love it love it love it” feeling that makes your head want to explode with joy.
Or whatever it is that happens to you when you’re so ecstatic that you can’t handle it. My head explodes (but it’s okay – before they sent me here, my alien leaders assured me I could continue to grow new ones indefinitely).
I haven’t felt that impressed by a book in a while, possibly not since reading the Kingkiller Chronicles and the Silo Saga; I read those two collections one after the other, so I was completely nonsensical with literary excitement for almost an entire five-month period.
And then I fell into a dry spell. A dry, dry, dry spell. So, I went through my To-Read list on Goodreads, and lo – I found this novel by Ray Bradbury, which I had somehow managed to entirely miss out on as a kid and which had been sitting on the aforementioned To-Read list for a couple of years… and Other Me said to This Me, “Elle, you love Bradbury’s other works, don’t you? I mean, Fahrenheit 451 has been a favorite of yours since the sixth grade, hasn’t it? And you like weird crap like macabre carnivals and eerie calliope music, right? So, what is sure to WOW you more than all of those separate things than if they were mushed together?!”
So I read it. And now I would like to buy the paperback copy of this novel simply so I can slap Other Me in the face with it. Then I’ll give it to the used book store down the street from my house, because it’s not worth reading a second time. And this is a fact that gives me a big case of the sads.
This is my review, so I have to be fair and give the good its due: the idea of this book might have been splendiferous with a super side of awesome sauce if I’d read it when I was between the ages of ten and fifteen. The whole coming-of-age tale, the battle between good versus evil, the question about whether love and loyalty can conquer even the most vile evil, combined with the warning that rushing too quickly forward can be just as dangerous as wasting too much time looking back are all a bit too sigh-inducing for me now that my driver’s license says I’m an adult, but it would have certainly been more readily and easily accepted in the Early Years of the Elle.
As YA-geared as all those themes are, there are a few darker ones that I could still appreciate while reading Something Wicked: mainly, I really liked that Bradbury’s version of evil isn’t holding a gun or a bloody axe – what makes this evil dangerous isn’t its bizarre appearance or the horrifying way it carries out its deeds, but, rather, the wonders it provides. Evil is attractive in Something Wicked, evil knows what you want and what you need, and it can offer all of that to you – of course, there’s a catch, a cost, but it won’t come up for so long… years, even… and evil can make the Now so much more pleasant for you.
I also liked how realistically the townsfolk were depicted: they were neither bad nor good but simply were; they just existed, like so many of us, and they went through their days as they always had and always would – and when they gave away their intangible souls for something in the Now, something real and visible and here, they did so with so much hope, so much naive desire… they wanted so badly to believe the lie that they rendered themselves unable to see the truth until it was almost too late.
But this also segues into the one thing that really dragged the whole novel down for me. Because, in the end, it really just came down to one thing. I mean, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I don’t really mind the immature themes listed above – I still love the Harry Potter novels, after all – but the story itself has to be accessible, engrossing, and, well, readable. And as interesting as Wee Tea might have found the story Bradbury lays out in Something Wicked, I doubt she would have been patient enough to stick with it due to the writing style and overly-lyrical choice of verbiage used throughout the novel. I’m assuming the use of a rather outdated Gothic style of writing was intentional, no doubt to set a certain mood, but the poetic style forced me to focus more on how the story had been written rather than what the story had been written about. Even the simplest concepts were reduced to verbose babble, and conversations and ways of speaking were twisted into unnatural shapes; I’m an escape artist – I like to “lose” myself in the books I read – and being forced to re-read phrases in order to fully comprehend what the author was trying to convey is not conducive to escapist reading tendencies. For example:
“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And all men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells. Times come when troughs, not tables, suit appetites. Hear a man too loudly praising others and look to wonder if he didn’t just get up from the sty.”
I mean, it’s truly a lovely bit of writing, it really is. And anyone can say, “The person who puts on the biggest production is playing the biggest part” – it takes real talent to paint the imagery Bradbury does in the above example. But the style doesn’t really belong in a story about a carnival of evil.
In the end, I think if you have kids with a firm grasp of the English language and a taste for quirky, odd stories, this one might work for them – but Dandelion Wine is a better general, coming-of-age Bradbury tale. If you’ve never read Bradbury and are over the age of fifteen, however, don’t start here: try Fahrenheit 451. You’ll thank me later.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.