This is a long overdue read for me. I’ve been dying to get back to my reading of the works of Ray Bradbury. I’ve been slowly getting into his work and I was highly impressed with this particular book. This was also the first book in a while that I just randomly picked up and read on the basis it was interesting. I also was on a long bus journey.
On an October night, the week before Halloween, the carnival arrives. Welcome to Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show! A place of outlandish people, rides and a charismatic ring master who seems to know the darkest desire of anyones heart. For in the town of Green Town, there are two boys who answer the call to the carnival. For Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade, the carnival will show them many wonders and what the price is for the wishes within their hearts.
Now I thought Stephen King was the master of small town dramas, adolescent stories and the idea of the evil that killed the neighborhood. It is very clear where he learned this from. This book is wonderfully crafted and truly does manage to explore the horrors of adulthood while examining the wants of every young teen to be older and able to do as they wish.
We don’t generally see much of Green Town. We generally spend a good chunk of the book running through the town trying to keep up with Jim and Will as they run in every and any direction. The world within the carnival is hard not to be emmersed in, between the sound of calliope music, the churn and clunk of the carousel, the smell of sweat as people perform for so many. And under it all, like any circus or carnival, there is a sense of unease that something about this is not quite right.
There is such an anxiety woven into each character and is presented in a way that you can’t not feel it with the characters. Will is worried that he will lose Jim, somehow along the way as he grows up. Jim is scared and desperate to explore the activities and fancies experienced by adults alone, dying to rush towards his inevitable manhood. Will’s father Charles, his pining for his own youth and for Will’s approval. This all coupled with the villanous Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man lurking around every corner leaves for some very genuinely uneasy moments .
There is a constant sense of both dread and melancholy around this town when the carnival first shows up and it really doesn’t let up until the final pages. There is an underlying feeling that something is about to go very wrong and noone but us the readers know and we cannot warn the 2 boys.
The structure of the plot is very much balanced between both sides, the ‘good’ side of the town (Will and his father), the ‘bad’ who have arrived in town (Mr. Dark mainly) and there is to a certain point an unknowing to who will triumph in the end since anything could tip the scales (Jim and his temptation to go to the carnival, the lightning rod salesman etc). That to me was probably one of the best hooks within the plot to keep the reader engaged.
Bradbury’s writing is breathtaking in places and this comes as no shock to me. The way he can conduct a mood like he does relies totally on his descriptive writing. There are many sentences that have stuck with me but this one really has;
“So in sum, what are we? We are the creatures that know and know too much. That leaves us with such a burden again we have a choice, to laugh or cry. No other animal does either. We do, depending on the season and the need.”
I don’t have much else to say about this outside of what has already been said but just that I am so glad I finally read this. It definitely lives up to the hype and is well worth reading since it is not too long and isn’t one of Bradbury’s more fantastical works so its a good place to start.