Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 2006). I can sort of understand the point behind Thomas Disch's mean joke that Bradbury is "a lifelong child impersonator of a stature equal to that of Pee Wee Herman." Still, I loved 'im as a kid and find his emotionally high-strung tense, gosh-wow, superprecious outlook on the wonders of life, nature, the senses, and the Old Ways of the American Midwest as presented in science fictional and fantastic wrappings to be a valuable and unquenchable American authorial voice. Everyone–especially every young teen–should try reading him, just to see if they can find a place for themselves amongst his vivid scent-filled fields, his arid and maddening and marvelous Mars, his dark carnivals.
That said, this new novel, continuing the saga of youth and aging begun in his 1957 novel Dandelion Wine, is no place to start, or finish, or stop at in-between. Li'l Douglas Spaulding is getting a little older and forms an army of fellow boys–characterized pretty much throughout by nothing but their indistinguishable 40s kids gang flick version of boyishness–to fight against reifications of the mysterious aging that is screwing with their minds as they begin to skirt the borders of adolescence. First they aim at their hometown of Green Town, Illinois, scary old men themselves, who the boys are beginning to feel control them, like chess pieces on the board's they play "beneath the marble shadow of the courthouse, under the great clock tower's bulk." Then they decide the clock itself is to blame for aging.
Their mania results in the death of an old man (shot by a toy gun no less) some explosions, some theft, some disciplined pouring out of root beer, some feelings of first sexual love that mark the death of childhood summer, the realization that "Ice cream cones are always gettin' done with" and some wise lectures from grandpa. (Chapter 37 has a bit with an old man's final sexual awakening and a young man's first one coming in eerie, and utterly icky, synchronicity.)
It just all really doesn't work, and despite the occasional joys of dipping back into Bradbury's perhaps too imitable style of describing youthful emotions and sensory joys, it's a part of Bradbury's legacy that history will be kind to more or less forget when he is honored later–as he will be–as one of America's most distinctive and fascinating authors of 20th century short fiction.