What a great time to release a gentle gem like this --- a nostalgic tale set in October that shares its longing with the real-time October going on all around us.
I can honestly say that my emotive brain "composed" its thoughts on FAREWELL SUMMER in the midst of summer's waning breath, as we worked this week to clean up the nearly leafless orchard for another season. As I raked and carried mound after mound of leaves and twigs, I felt myself wholly embraced by the scene of bright, low-angled sunshine, cool northwest breezes, and a long slate line of snow-bearing clouds looming just beyond the old abandoned rail line to Princeton, Ontario.
In this charming sequel to his equally memorable DANDELION WINE of half a century ago, Bradbury has returned to the lives of his teenage boy characters, still on the verge of puberty in small-town America. His fictitious Green Town, Illinois could be Berea, Ohio, or Gimli, Manitoba, or my familiar Princeton, Ontario --- any one of thousands of places that were once (or still are) imbued with a culture that understands change yet tenaciously protects old-fashioned values like character and loyalty. And no matter who you are or how long your family has lived in one place, those small town values don't simply come along with rural genes; they have to be experienced, absorbed and learned by each new generation.
That's the delicate and essential space Bradbury has so charmingly re-visited in FAREWELL SUMMER, as Doug and his little "gang" wage a mini-war of wits against several local elders who wield power on the school board and at city hall. A series of boyish pranks culminates in the most daring escapade of all --- an elaborately planned night-time assault on the town hall clock. Stop time, and you stop the inevitable decline of life that looms with approaching adulthood --- or so Doug and his pals have figured it! But of course, the curmudgeonly old folks still remember the lovely wild dreams of their own youth, and a combination of coincidences and consequences catch up with the boys and show them another side of their onetime "enemies."
This is how Bradbury has caught the essence of that complex yet evocative transition between childhood and a new level of awareness that comes with responsibility and self-worth. One day Doug and his cohorts, much older and wiser, would tough it out with a new generation and in turn take on the role of wise and eccentric elders who figure so prophetically in the young boys' lives.
Bradbury easily could have exploited the archetypal generation-gap conflict that is a mainstay of so much literature and created a story with predictable proportions of humor, nostalgia, tension, conflict, winners and losers. But as his numerous fans in so many genres already know, that's just so much superficial "stuff" on his palette.
The same Ray Bradbury who strides across undiscovered universes to find the footprints of God is just as adept with the comparative microcosm of a little town basking in golden autumn light and fallen leaves, a place where lives aren't as simple and tranquil as in a Norman Rockwell or Peter Etril Snyder (for we Canadians!) painting.
Here, practical jokes and profound wisdom make peace with one another, and all of Bradbury's characters, young and elderly, finally stand together amid the sweet expiration of memory and delight that was summer --- and will be again.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on October 1, 2006