That Ray Bradbury's novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, is part of "The Grand Masters Editions" comes as no suprise. This book truly is a masterful exploration of what happens when a boy becomes a man and of the dark and light that resides in each of us. The beginning felt a little slow to me, and if it wasn't by Bradbury and I didn't have to read it for the master's program, I might not have continued to pick it up to try again. I kept reading though and suddenly I found myself in the middle of the book reading into the wee hours of the morning, casting a wary eye about my apartment just in case one of those creepy carnival dudes had managed to crawl inside.
I like that Bradbury's Magic Carousel serves as a symbolic representation of eternal life - like Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth, the idea of being able to travel decades backwards in time has fascinated mankind forever. Bradbury takes a classic idea and transforms it into a dark carnival that feeds on the souls of the living (or, at least, on their fear) and secures a never-ending supplies of freaks for the show by tempting folks with the chance to be young again.
Quite a few people I know would be hard-pressed to say no to such a chance -- who doesn't know someone who says, however jokingly, "what I wouldn't do to be your age again?" On the other hand, who doesn't know a child aching and yearning to grow up so fast that he or she is a constant blur of motion straining toward adulthood? Part of what makes Bradbury's book work is his ability to tap into this notion of being trapped by time.
Like Blind Voices, Something Wicked has a similiar passage in which a character lapses into a monologue (in BV this is in the caravan with Haverstock's villian speech). Bradbury's rendition of the monologue seems to work, however, for two reasons:
1) the scene takes place late at night in the closed library and the three (Charles, Will, & Jim) are scared as they wait for the carnival people to come get them. Basically, Charles is thinking aloud and the scared boys listen in awe to the adult, their savior, speak of life, death, and other things children rarely get to hear adults talk about.
2) the long speech is in character for Charles, who, although this may be the most he's ever spoken to his son, readily admits talking to himself in the library and to his wife at night -- and Will has listened to the remnants of these speeches through the bedroom walls.
Besides, the stuff of the almost-monologue is so great: "The stuff of nightmares is their plain bread. They butter it with pain." It's easy to forgive when it pulls you further into the story -- this means that it is doing its job to engage the reader.
Another thing I loved about this book are the unique details: like the Illustrated Man (not tattooed, mind you, there's a difference). In the end, it turns out that his illustrations are meaningful, a fact hinted at throughout but made clear when the illustrations on his palms of the boys are revealed. These illustrations play an important role throughout. Mr. Dark reveals his disregard for traditional forms of evil-fighting when he throws a copy of The Bible into a garbage can.
Another detail is the focus on eyes -- finding truth in their glances. The boys can tell that the young boy who hops off the merry-go-round is the same as the old man who started the journey because of the knowledge in the old-man-turned-young-boy's eyes. The same occurs when Jim and Will run into the now-young Miss Foley under a tree in the park. Eyes play a role in the scene after Mr. Cooger has become a very old corpse and the freaks bring him back to life with electricity. The boys recognize the lightning rod salesman from the beginning of the book by his eyes, even though the man has been completely transformed.
Finally, I loved that the carnival's calliope played The Funeral March, only backwards. Will hears the song and knows it's familiar, but it isn't until later that he can place it. That detail alone hints at the darkness to come. Very excellent!
I think what I can take from this book is that all the details in a book matter -- they either need a function specifically-related to the plot and events at the moment or to hint at things to come. So, I shouldn't describe what my character is eating in detail -unless- that food item will later come back to haunt him.
I bet if I were to re-read SW I would notice hints and suggestions of what's to come later in the novel. I'm hoping that my novel-in-progress will do the same thing -- there are already things that I know will be reflected later in the novel. Also, from comments from my peer critiques and from my mentor, I know what other people reading my manuscript are thinking in places -- showing me that at least some of the things I am trying to do are working. Other things will reveal themselves later, I think, if I trust in the writing muse to lead me in the right direction - I don't understand everything that is happening in the book just yet, but I am confident that it will all become clear to me soon enough.
Regardless, I think if I can produce a novel even 1/16th as masterful as Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, I'll be in decent shape and have a better understanding of the form so that my next one will be better. (SW was Bradbury's third novel, though he had a lot of writing experience with short stories before that. Also, this wasn't Bradbury's first exploration of the idea of a carnival turned evil - he published a short story collection called Dark Carnival before writing this novel).