Completed 10/22/2015, Reviewed 10/26/2015
“Was” is an interesting premise. It’s sort of a deconstruction of the “Wizard of Oz” tale. There are several interrelated stories: a tale of the “real” Dorothy as an abused orphan in Kansas, a young man who meets her in a county run asylum when she’s in her 80s, a glimpse at Judy Garland during her childhood and on the set of the film, and a man dying of AIDS who is obsessed with film. Each story is interesting, but as whole book, it falls flat.
The story of the “real” Dorothy is the longest. It’s a tough story with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Through an odd coincidence, Dorothy meets Frank Baum and the rest is history. It’s an interesting idea and brings to light the nature and result of abuse, disassociation, and inner fantasy life. But as with most stories of abuse, it’s not an easy read. I found the despair too overwhelming at times.
The other stories are interlaced throughout the book. They are interesting in themselves, and I think would stand alone well as short stories. Each story stands up with its own plot and character development. However, in the end, the stories come together in a huge fantasy or perhaps magical realism scene. I found it to be incredibly complicated and confusing. For me, it made the book lose its purpose. I think it would have worked better if the stories simply ended on their own.
I’d say you have to read the book to understand what I mean by this. But the ending lost me so thoroughly, I can’t say I’d recommend anyone to read this book in the first place. I think I would have been happier with a compilation of short stories called “Variations on a theme by Baum”. I’m giving it two out of five stars because as a novel, it just doesn’t succeed.