I was never a young boy in the 1920s (ha), but I did grow up in a small town in the Midwest, and wow, did this book resonate with me. Reading this incredible book made me nostalgic much like when I read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series.
The book has no real plot; rather, it’s a collection of stories from the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, all involving 12-year-old Douglas, his family, and his neighbors. While this format took me a hot minute to get into, it was extremely effective in making the book really about many things all at once: childhood, family, happiness, death, aging, true love, even witchcraft and a serial killer… it’s all over the place and it’s just magic. The writing is beautiful, and Bradbury somehow manages to say so much without a lot of words.
“Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family.”
I especially enjoyed the chapters full of simple small-town life anecdotes. The neighbors all know each other, the mailman reads the postcards, tries on mail-order shoes, and peruses books before he delivers them, the ladies attend meetings at the Honeysuckle Lodge, the kids all play together outside until sundown, people get together at the ice cream shop, the arcade, and the movie theater. I spent my childhood in a tiny Midwest town of about 200 people, and even though I was living it 60 years after Douglas, it rang so true for me.
I listened to the book on audio (Blackstone Audio from 2011, read by Paul Michael Garcia), often out for audiowalks. I found myself laughing out loud as I walked along listening to Elmira Brown becoming convinced that her rival for president of the ladies’ club, Clara Goodwater, is a witch. Absolutely hilarious. Alternately, I was walking and crying as great grandma’s long life was summed up, as Doug’s best friend spends his last day in town before moving, and listening to the unusual relationship between Bill and Helen. I even spent one walk really, truly scared as Lavinia Nebb was stalked by a bonafide serial killer as she walked home alone after the movies.
For me, the hallmark of a really good novel is its ability to make me feel things deeply, and this book checked all of the boxes. This book doesn’t address any of the major social, political, and world issues of the time period. It doesn’t try to do any more than show the very small world of a young boy who is just starting to realize he’s alive at the same time he’s realizing all things die; a boy who doesn’t want the summer to end as his own childhood is ending. It made me smile, laugh, and cry; it made me think about my childhood, miss my grandparents, and want to hug my mom and dad. I adored this beautiful, quiet book, and I plan to gift copies to several people that I love.
“And, after all, isn’t that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people’s heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh, so that’s how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that.”