BY B.J. HOLLARS
[Deserted Isle Books is our new series in which our contributors discuss the one book they would choose if they were, well, stranded alone on a deserted isle forever. Read other installments of the series here, get your own copies at Powell’s, and explore other series like this on our Special Features page.]
A Swig Of Summer: On Reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Even On An Island
You read it always, whether trapped on a deserted island or aboard a sinking ship. Drink a glassful while hovering atop Mount Everest, and one swig more while riding the avalanche on the way down. No matter what situation in which you find yourself, Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine will always be your tonic. Equal parts nostalgia and yearning, readers find themselves raising glasses to Greentown, 1928, to the young, spry boys who inhabit the place, slipping on fresh tennis shoes on the first day of summer only to peel away their sweat drenched soles once September dies.
This is a book of trolley rides and inventors and mysterious penny arcades, of boys who believe they’ll stay young forever and are willing to prove it in the echoes of their sprints. Yet surrounding this perfect dream is the dark underbelly of a real world, one that manifests itself in a deep ravine so shadow-filled that only the bravest of boys dare venture forth.
Yet despite this tenuous tug between good and evil, we read Dandelion Wine simply for its comfort. One page takes the edge off, while another makes you feel warm. It is a book chiefly about time, of a summer shared between brothers in which each fallen leaf is carefully recorded with the sharp point of a Ticonderoga pencil, where each picked blackberry is documented for the annals of history.
Bradbury’s work is no haplessly shaped creature, but instead, a careful crafted compendium of a town, of the people there, a snapshot of their happy, frozen lives. Likewise, the town itself is a place where death dares not enter the city limits, where boys light firecrackers into the stars while the town clock clangs out each passing hour as if it every 3:00a.m. is in need of memorializing.
The title comes from the brothers’ efforts to bottle their summer in dandelions, their grandfather offering each grandson a dime for every gathered sack of the sun-drenched weeds. Once gathered, the dandelions are pressed and bottled, placed in the cellar, only to be rediscovered in the dead of winter, when even the slightest swig will remind the imbiber of “the balm of sun and idle August afternoons…”—a momentary vacation from December’s bony chill.
In short, Dandelion Wine is a novel wrapped tight in metaphor, though the simplicity of its message remains ever present: Memory is a gift that cuts both ways, tearing our hearts wide before beginning the careful work of re-stitching.