So it seems odd that this is the first thing I've read by Bradbury. I know he is a science fiction author and he's been on my "to read" list for a while. When I was at the library earlier this week, I grabbed this off the shelf assuming it would be an interesting sci fi read.
But it's not. I read the introduction and Bradbury does a good job describing his process for this book (which is a novel only in the very loose sense of the word); he woke up every morning for 12 years (beween the ages of 24-36 years old) and sat down to write based on whatever words had come to him in the night. He used recollections from his boyhood in small town Illinois, but also spun stories using "any word or series of words that happened along in my head." As one can imagine, while the stories all go together (in that small town, collection of short stories way that something like Lewis' Main Street or Anderson's Winesburg OH goes together) there is no real central plot or overlying storyline.
Bradbury does pull it all together with a few relevant themes. He explores death and the acceptance of one's own mortality and he reiterates time and again the perpetual changes that occur in the sameness (and apparent monotony) of the day to day in small town life. He touches on the supernatural (there are witches and ghosts and fortune tellers) and after reading this I am interested to see what he can do with plot and fantasy.
He also addresses the question of happiness (one of my favorite to explore in literature); Lena knows and understands that happiness is found in the day to day satisfaction of life, while Leo has to build a machine and watch it be destroyed before he can appreciate the love of his family (of course it doesn't hurt that the woman was in the right).
My biggest complaint was that it was written (mostly) from the perspective of Doug (age 12) and Tom (age 10) and so Bradbury is forced at times to use their voices to express his (quite sentimental) philosophical musings. I found these very staged conversations to be stilted and instead of providing the insight that Bradbury wished to convey, distracting in their overtness.
Overall the prose is beautiful, the topics are relevant, and the book is compelling.