Out looking for wild grapes with his father and brother, Douglas wakens to the fact that he is alive. He confides his realizations to his brother, Tom, and records them in a yellow nickel pad as they accumulate through the summer.
Life’s bounty presents new tennis shoes, stories of buffalo stampedes by old Colonel Freeleigh, and the affection of and for John Huff, a neighborhood buddy. Family rituals provide another part of this goodness, especially the monthly gathering of dandelions for wine making. Grandfather Spalding supervises, but Douglas tends with eye, ear, and hand the mystery of preserving summer in the cellar. The bottles wait there to assuage winter’s chills and colds.
Douglas wishes wonderful summer would stay put. It will not. Beloved John Huff moves away. Tennis shoes wear. The storyteller dies. Another vision assails the boy: Douglas Spalding will die some day.
Less a plotted story than a flaring of richly described episodes, the book depicts the birth of the artist as a Midwestern boy. As well, it portrays the isolation of selfhood. However full Douglas’ experiences are, rupture jars them and creates anxiety. Life, initially so much a treasure, is open to doubt. Douglas utters “I hate you” to the disappeared John Huff, though he really addresses the fickleness of life. With determination, however, Douglas keeps his faith. The notebook fills up. Dandelion wine is gathered each month, an emblem of this faith.
The book works for the reader as a bottle of dandelion wine. The rich vintage of Bradbury’s remembered Waukegan boyhood will vivify any reader’s sense of his or her childhood. Anyone desiring to hear loud realistic acclaim for the cosmos that people mysteriously appear in and disappear from should not miss this book.