Unlike most fathers, my dad was actually reticent about offering advice. Don’t get me wrong, he was right up front about sorting you out when you did something wrong, but his unsolicited advice was rare and delivered without urgency or outward signs of importance.
As a prime example, I recall the time I decided to buy a 1977 MGB. If one of my daughters came up with a plan like this, I would filibuster them with a longwinded, highly animated speech that would outlast their desire to make the purchase. My dad said, “I wouldn’t. A friend of mine has one and it’s always in the shop.” End of story. Needless to say, I bought the damned thing and it hung around my neck like for the next three years.
As an aside, let me just offer some unsolicited advice of my own: If you’re ever in a position to argue against Socialism with someone, don’t bother pointing to the failure of the Soviet Union. Just point them in the direction of any automobile produced in the British Midlands in the 1970s. Boom, argument over.
If had possessed my current ability to interpret his advice when I was eleven years old, I never would have read Something Wicked This Way Comes. I was a big a reader and a huge science fiction fan in my middle school years, so big, in fact, that I had already consumed everything else Bradbury had to offer by the time I reached Something Wicked in our home library.
I was sitting in a chair in the living room reading by the light of the picture window when he noticed what I was up to. He took a look at the book in my lap and said, “That one’s pretty scary.”
If it had been me, I would have snatched the book away, urgently saying, “Not this one. Not yet. This one will haunt your dreams and drain the light from your days. All the other books in the library are yours but make no attempt to read this one.”
But I did not possess an understanding of what my dad was trying to tell me so I just shrugged that I wasn’t afraid and went about the business of reading.
I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. That book, so allegorical and yet, at the same time, so immersive and terrifying, changed the way I looked at reading.
Before Something Wicked, I had never read anything that truly scared me. Unlike the terrifying experience of being trapped in a dark movie theater with a bloody vampire, I read with the certain knowledge that I could simply put the book down at any time if I got too scared. Not only could I not put that book down, I couldn’t even make myself stop reading when it got dark. This would not happen to me again until I read The Shining more than ten years later.
First of all, it’s about two boys near my own age. Even though Bradbury says the boys are fourteen in the book, they read much younger owing to how he drew on his own 1930s childhood. Secondly, the boys who are the protagonists are as helpless to resist being pulled into this slow motion nightmare as I was to simply close the book and put it down.
Bradbury was a great writer but he could be a little too twee for my taste from time to time. In Something Wicked, he eschews all that melancholy and sweetness for what amounts to an acid trip through the world’s worst traveling circus. He writes from the distorted point of view of the protagonists rather than from the more normalized view of the adults. Also, adults apart from Will Halloway’s father, are mostly background characters. Except for the evil ones from the circus, of course. They’re everywhere moving with the irresistible power and overbearing omniscience of grownups.
This is one of those rare books that I love but don’t reread from time to time. I did pick up the audio version about five years ago and it scared hell out of me all over again, though this time the scares seemed tinged with echoes from my childhood.