by Ray Bradbury
‘Boy!’ yelled Will. ‘Folks run like they thought the storm was here!’
‘It is!’ shouted Jim. ‘Us!’
Jim and Will, two thirteen-year-old boys, are filled with wonder as a mysterious carnival unpacks itself before their eyes during one of their midnight (3am) excursions from the house. The two have contrasting personalities but are the closest of friends at an age where perhaps magic is at its strongest. The boys take an interest in an out of order carousel at the carnival and accidentally witness the carousel subtracting years from its passenger, 1 year for every spin around. The man steps off a 12-year-old boy and heads out for mischief.
The boys follow the man/boy (Mr. Cooger) around for a while, then back to the carousel where he rides it in reverse adding his years back. Will hits a lever and the carousel spins out of control, and Mr. Cooger barely survives. Mr. Dark, the carnival proprietor also known as the Illustrated Man, begins to chase the boys down, attempting to coerce them with every boy’s wish–to be grown. The boys mistrust Mr. Dark and witness an old lady from the neighborhood transformed into a little girl crying about her misfortune. They begin working against the Illustrated Man and enlist the help of Will’s father, a philosophical janitor at the local library and a mystery himself.
It’s a good story, told with unmistakable style, but the style imposes somewhat. You’ll likely spend most of the book thinking of it as somewhere between ‘very good’ and ‘excellent.’
Then you’ll reach the final few chapters of the book, where perception shifts in a big way. The style began working in itself, feeding off itself, and the last 10% was a dead sprint to the finish line with the father, Charles Halloway (Charles is each one of us) taking center stage in a battle to save his son, his son’s friend, himself and everyone in the world who wants to be saved. An ending such as this requires the stylistic language, because you have to speak this way to get across as much of the emotional and human issues being confronted as possible. Words don’t quite suffice; you need the underpinnings. You need to see and be able to read the spaces between them, what the book has prepared you for, and doing so delivers an unforgettable end.
This is a special, magical work about boyhood and adulthood, how they are in many ways the same, and how concepts like right and wrong can be so badly manipulated. In many ways it’s also about ‘the space between the strings.’ The days of our lives that exist between events. It can be somewhat of a challenge if you’re not used to the style, but you’ll get it if you stick with it, and you just might love it.
What an amazing, pleasant surprise.
If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts.