by Ray Bradbury
originally published in 1962
I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. I had actually intended to read it on Halloween night last year, but it wound up on the backburner again, until this year when it became a group read during the summer with the Literary Horror discussion group on Goodreads.com. There's a slew of classics that I have yet to read, but being such an admirer of Bradbury's short fiction, it's a lowdown dirty shame it took me this long to get round to reading this novel.
In case you've never read it either, here's the gist: Two boys, Will and Jim, get excited and ultimately too curious for their own good when a carnival comes to town in the middle of the night, about a week before Halloween. Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. Of keen interest to the boys is a mysterious merry-go-round that appears control the aging process. The old can become young again, while the young can hop-skip-jump their way to adulthood by a brief ride atop the carousel. But Will and Jim have garnered the attention of the carnival's Mr. Dark when they discover the carnival's true nature and find themselves up to their necks in trouble.
Now, I am not sure how enamored storytellers were with carnivals and the like prior to Something Wicked, but it's pretty plain to see that Bradbury set a high watermark with anyone from that point forward to wanted to use one as a backdrop.
There's something about midnight that sends the imagination off in all directions, which might be why Bradbury set it up that Jim was born a minute before midnight and Will a minute after--also making him born on Halloween, as it turns out. That dynamic between the two boys plays out incredibly well, as they start out in the story so well in tune with each other. Their friendship solid as granite, but when the nature of the Shadow Show comes to bear bit by bit, and the promise of growing older starts to claw at Jim's desires to escape boyhood, while Will is all too keen to hang onto his and avoid the seemingly debilitating effect of time, as evidenced by his father.
The whole idea of wanting to be older when you're young, and younger when you're old, plays out in a multitude of ways. I've seen both sides of that fence, myself, much in the same way Will did with the shadow of his father looming large. It's a big ol' heartstring, that father/son relationship, which Bradbury plays for all it's worth. But it might play second fiddle to the best friend relationship and how it's tested as the various characters from the carnival try to get at Will and Jim.
The book wasn't without difficulties though, which for me came in the form of the style of prose. Lyrical in spots, but murky in others. It's just the way I'm wired. Bradbury is one of those authors whose imagination and sincerity make up for whatever dated quality the words might have, but there were definitely passages that felt like he let the words run away with themselves. I've become a fan of tight, economical prose, and that's nowhere to be found in this novel. Something Wicked This Way Comes fall short of being my favorite Bradbury tale, but I do feel gratified for having finally read it.