Top critical review
To Hell and Back
on December 6, 2001
A while back, I read the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire and I asn't all that thrilled with it. I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was constantly anticipating the events and trying to match them up with what happened in the original story. Whatever it was, it kept me from enjoying it as much as others have.
So when Was was recommended to me, I approached it not without a little trepidation, but this time I got all the way through without problems.
Not the most glowing of reviews, but there you are.
How about this instead: I didn't like the book, but I couldn't put it down. Allow me to pull out the old "train wreck" metaphor. You know the one -- where you don't want to watch because it's so horrible, but you can't help but stare in fascination.
Ryman's premise is that Baum, the original author, met a Dorothy in Kansas from whom he (Baum) got the inspriation for his story. The problem is that this Dorothy is evil. Or she becomes evil, thanks to her good old Auntie Em. The defining moment of the book was at the end of the second chapter; the very last sentence of that chapter, in fact. I don't want to give it away here, since it would lose its impact, but I think you'll know it when you read it.
As Ryman takes Dorothy from innocent youth to crotchety old woman, it's hard not to watch, with increasing disbelief, at the amazingly horrible life he pushes her through. First her dog (Toto) is killed, then her new friend dies, then she's becomes an outcast at school, and then her Uncle Henry starts sexually abusing her, and then... well, you begin to get the picture.
So, as I sat there, not enjoying, but not wanting to stop reading, I had to wonder. This book was recommended to me by more than one person; what had they seen it it that made it worthy of recommendation? I'm not questioning their taste. Quite the opposite: I'm questioning my own. Why didn't I like this book as much as they did? It's certainly well-written, and the plot is exceptionally well constructed. Ryman does a great job of pulling fragments of coincidences together to make his story work. So, on that level, at least, it's worthy of recommendation.
I've spent several weeks thinking about this book now, trying to come up with "what it all means." And maybe that's a good thing to say about a book -- any book -- that it makes you think. But there must be other ways, other stories, other means by which one can get one's point across.
Maybe Ryman's concern was that, if I enjoyed the story, I wouldn't think about it, or think about what happened to Dorothy and thank any higher being which may exist that it wasn't me.