Sunday, June 1, 2014

Was

So, I’ll go into more detail about what happened in my next post. But, suffice it to say I’m about a month from the halfway point for Project 84, and I’m still very behind. But, like I said in my last entry, this project is still important to me, and I am enjoying the reading and reviewing, so I have no intention of giving this up. And I still have every intention to get to 84. I mentioned this in passing in my last post, but in an attempt to get to 84, I’m focusing on the halfway point of June 30th. If I can get to 42 books by June 30th, I’ll be caught up and on pace to hit 84 – and staying on pace is a big part of this project.

It’s important to note that though I may not be posting as quickly as I want to, I am still reading, which is the much more time consuming part of the goal. If you want an idea of the books I’ve already completed and will be blogging about soon, or you want to see which books I’m currently working on, you can always check out my Good Reads Page. If you have Good Reads, feel free to follow me over there as well to get updates.

But, more importantly, back to the posts!

With that in mind, the 19th book of Project 84 is:


Was

Was
by Geoff Ryman

I’ll be honest (when have I ever been less than honest on this blog? Haha!), this was not my favorite book. It was another one of those books that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, and I wanted to move it over to the “read” section of the shelf.

Which is one of the few good things I can say about this book.

OK, it might not have been that bad. But it was very disappointing.

The plot…was confusing. The book switches between several different narratives. The first is the “true” story of Dorothy Gael, a young orphan in Kansas who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle. During a tough childhood, complete with abuse and neglect, she meets a young teacher – Frank Baum – who ends up co-opting her story for a famous novel.

Other narratives include the story of Judy Garland up until she went to Hollywood, the story of an orderly at an old folks home who meets an aging Dorothy, and the story of a young, gay former actor dying of AIDS  who travels to Kansas seeking Wizard of Oz stories. Oh, and one chapter from the POV of a makeup artist working on The Wizard of Oz movie.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

To start with something positive - the writing was, actually, beautiful. There were aspects of this book that were pleasant to read, poetic, interesting. I didn’t have much of an issue getting through the novel, and that can be attributed, in large part, to the writing.

A few examples:
“Time seemed to be leapfrogging over itself. Parts of it were missing. The sides of beef had been laughing so long and so hard they couldn’t stop and one of them was in danger of choking. He made squeaking noises like a mouse. Jonathan felt distant from them, and sour. How did they get so big, so strong? He didn’t want to eat.” – Page 319

“The world was haunted. It needed to be haunted. The Land of Was was cradled in the arms of Now like a child. Was made Now tender. Death made life precious.” – Page 359
Clearly, Ryman has a gift with words. He is able to make the most mundane poetic, and the most sad and depressing into a work of art. But I’m not sure that he’s a great storyteller, which was where the book lost me.

I didn’t follow the story – or stories, as the case may be. There were too many characters, too many interwoven moments. In an attempt to build multiple worlds, Ryman made them too detailed, and the narrative became muddled and hard to follow. Personally, I think he would have been better served choosing 2 or 3 narratives to weave together. But every time a new character was introduced, I had to take a moment to figure out if we had met them before, and where they fit into the story. At a certain point, I wanted to start keeping a list or a flow chart so that I could better understand where the book was going.

Ultimately, I think I do understand what Ryman was attempting. The book is meant to be fanciful. It’s meant to be, as he alludes to in his author’s note at the end of the book, a sort of “fantastical realism”. A love letter to Kansas, and maybe an inditement at the same time. I don’t know that I was supposed to follow every plot point of the story or memorize the characters. The problem is, without that plot and character development, the book falls flat. The writing can only be so good before I’m jonesing to know more, and with this book, I was jonesing to know just about anything about the characters.

If you couldn’t tell, I wouldn’t recommend this book. Maybe there’s something I’m missing – in fact, I think it’s safe to say that I just didn’t get Was, but I think there are many books in the same vein that I would recommend before I got to this one. Perhaps there’s a reason it sat on my shelf for so long.

***
Whew. There we go, another post. I promise that, in my next entry, I’ll go into a bit more detail about what happened to cause this latest break. Suffice it to say, I’m getting there. I’m sitting at my desk right now with 6 finished books on my right, and 2 books with 100 pages to go on my left, so I know that I’m at least working toward that end point.

Thanks for sticking with me as I catch up. You should definitely expect more entries in this next week than I’ve written in a while.

Next Review: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Expected Posting Date: Monday, June 2nd)




**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Was, published by Penguin Books in 1993**

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