Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter of Reading #3: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Winter of Reading Series is one part commentary and one part analysis. Each post includes both a review of a book that I've recently read and, perhaps more importantly, the positive and negative aspects of the writing and the story within. The goal of this series is to learn lessons that will help make myself, and anyone reading this, a better writer and storyteller! Enjoy...

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a horror fantasy by prolific science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury (and is the first piece of work by Bradbury that I've read). It's set in a small, lazy town suddenly turned upside down with the arrival of a mysterious carnival and its side-show of freaks. With a narrative that focuses on the point-of-view of two mischievous pre-teen boys, the premise reminded me of the many Goosebumps books that I used to read as a kid and thoroughly enjoy...

Right off the bat, I'll say this: I didn't enjoy this novel at all. Thus, most of this review will focus on what I thought the novel could improve on, and why. First, the premise. The back cover intro and synopsis promises a lot but the actual story delivers very little. The author and his publisher set expectations very high - we are about to enter a mysterious world of strange mirror mazes, freak shows, and wax museums, all of which will frighten us to no end. But throughout the story, we are rarely given more than just a glimpse of the surreal carnival world. Most of the story, in fact, is spent in the boys' homes! As a result, the reader doesn't truly feel like they've set off on a journey into another world.

Second, the pacing, and plot development, is extremely slow-moving. Nothing really happens in this story. And when things do happen, they are drawn out and, for the most part, expected. Nothing surprises, there is no major shock or revelation, and there are no scares, nothing to make you truly feel like something wicked is coming. The plot seems to have emphasized pre-teen angst and the "coming of age" of both the boys and a father figure, rather than their experiences and fear of the carnival. This, I feel, was a miss. The reader never senses that any of the main characters are in danger.

Lastly, one of the tropes that is consistently used throughout the narrative is that in which the main characters experience something supernatural which no one else ends up believing. They would witness something weird, something beyond belief, but when they would share it or call on someone from the outside world, they are not believed or the phenomenon disappears. And although this trope puts the characters in an interesting situation - forcing them to go deeper and to gain further evidence for their case, it simply serves to annoy the reader. We're invested in the supernatural events - but no one else is!

Key Positives:
A character-driven story that focuses on two relatable pre-teen boys
+ An interesting premise resembling that of a popcorn horror movie
+ Creative in its cast of freaks and carnival horrors

Key Negatives:
- A truly horrifying and surreal carnival experience is never delivered
Plot development is slow-moving and uninteresting
- The boys are constantly the only ones who witness the supernatural events - very annoying!

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