Can you be nostalgic for a place you never lived in, for a time long gone before you were born? I certainly never lived in Waukegan, Illinois in the summer of 1928 as a 12-year old boy named Douglas Spalding, but Ray Bradbury has perfectly evoked a magical world of a long-lost Midwest small town as seen from the eyes of a bright, energetic young boy.
You would think small town life is fairly boring and uneventful, but in the lyrical hands of Bradbury, think again. The short vignettes he tells are always unexpected, and verge from wryly-amusing to heart-breaking to outright terrifying, all because of the skill and love with which Bradbury approaches these characters.
Strangely enough, I didn’t like The Martian Chronicles much, because it merely used Mars as a stage to explore his yearning for a lost time and sensibility, but Dandelion Wine captured me fully and completely, much to my surprise. It is such an unabashedly romantic celebration of the good aspect of small-town values, and such an enjoyable read, that even a hardened cynic like me was unable to find fault with the story.
On a personal note, it actually helped that although I grew up in Hawaii, I spent every summer and winter in small-town Delafield, Wisconsin, where my father grew up, and I saw my grandparents and their neighbors in these stories, and the essential decency of regular folk in the Midwest.