Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WAS by Geoff Ryman

A while back, I read Geoff Ryman's Was. And have yet to blog about it.

Well, here goes!

Well, despite hearing some things that made me think it was yet another re-invention of Oz, I was pleasantly surprised by Was.

The book follows a variety of people who are connected by Oz somehow. Judy Garland as a child is focus of one chapter, another follows her makeup assistant on The Wizard of Oz, and another chapter follows the mind of her mother.

One of the most inventive characters flows through many chapters: Dorothy Gael, a little girl who lost her mother to illness, and moves in with her country aunt and uncle Henry and Emily Gulch. But as Dorothy's life goes on, it gets progressively worse. Toto runs away from home (she finds him once, but then he runs away for good later), her only friend dies, and Henry gives into certain temptations.

Dorothy's sad life is briefly brightened by a substitute teacher at her school: a traveling actor about to return home soon. It it slowly revealed that he is L. Frank Baum himself, and during his brief time in Kansas, he becomes concerned for the little girl.

A doctor later meets an elderly and bitter Dorothy in a nursing home, and shortly before her death, she sees the first telecast of MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

Finally, AIDS afflicted film actor Jonathan is yet another subplot. A childhood fan of The Wizard of Oz, he decides to seek out the real Dorothy.

Despite how depressing the book sounds, I was surprised at how warm the ending is. And, as a historical buff, I was glad that an afterword explains where the author took creative liberties with fact. (Especially the stuff with Baum.) The text sometimes reads slowly like a dream, or sometimes quickly like a nightmare. Other times, it flows naturally like our day to day lives.

Given my age of 25, I can't say I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner, as it isn't for the younger Oz fan. Overall, I'd recommend it for someone who'd want a good story that isn't exactly an Oz story.

1 comment:

Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

Did we read the same book? Because when I read Was several years back, I thought it was so bad that its purpose was to make all animal life on Earth except bog-hogs die of depression. Some of what you're saying sounds familiar, but as I remember the story, the bad things which kept happening were essentially kept making things worse without anything ever getting better. The bad things did not even result in character building; they were more like character-destroying. I suppose one could get something out of the tragedy, but it's definitely not for everyone.