Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire
I was really psyched about reading this one, but the excitement soon turned to weariness. Lately I seem to be cursed with these high potential, low payoff books. This is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West of Wizard of Oz fame, and how she came to be so “Wicked.” Maguire, who is a genius for creating a back story to the Oz classic and using it to create a fortune for himself, since it falls within the public domain, begins the story from the start with little Elphaba’s birth. She is born to a fervent minister father, and aristocrat-in-name-only mother who has a penchant for drinking and loose morals with men. Poor Elphaba is born with green skin and shark-like teeth, and is quite the humiliation for her parents. We watch Elphaba and the family grow up in the forests with little interaction with other children or people, until she enrolls in college. From here the story begins to jump around with no clear path, and we see characters and storylines that appear and disappear with no real reason. The atheist Elphaba gets involved in a terror group that is set on bringing down the corrupt Oz, has an affair, disappears into a convent, reappears to ask forgiveness of someone she has wronged, travels home, and lastly becomes obsessed with getting back her sister’s magic ruby slippers from our famous Dorothy. Along the way there is some old Yackle- witchlady- thing that seems to be driving Elphaba toward something with her life, but I couldn’t tell you what this “something” is. A run-in with a weird- troll- dwarf- thing, guardian of some magic book that Elphaba has, and which the Wizard of Oz desires, seems to be a pretty important part of the story, but again, lo and behold, there’s not much here for the reader to make sense of. For a short time the novel has shades of being a political thriller, with Elphaba set on taking down a Nazi type regime. This is really kind of cool, but again, to my dismay, this storyline is simply dropped with no follow-up.
Dorothy and the gang, besides making a quick appearance at the very beginning of the novel, don’t show up again until the last 50 pages or so. And that’s ok with me, I had been told and read reviews that Wicked is not really about the Wizard of Oz characters as we know them, and that’s fine, as long as the rest of the story works without them. The problem is the characters and the story jump around like a kangaroo and leave huge gaps. In previous posts I had some negative thoughts on Blindness and The World Without Us, but ultimately they had their redeeming qualities, and if read within the right mindset, were pretty good books. For instance, if you knew to skim over mind numbing sections of the World Without Us, it was really worth it to get to the cool parts. But if you were to skim along through Wicked, you would quickly end up at the end, and really not have a pay-off. Interestingly enough, if you were to be a sucker like me and read the whole thing and get to the end, you would also not have any sort of payoff either.
I have been told that Maguire’s other spin-offs, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men, are much better written and the stories move along quite nicely, and fill in some of the story-lines, but I will leave that for others to try. If you have read Wicked let me know what you thought. I have heard some people say this is one of their favorite reads and was just wondering what they liked so much, and if they noticed a meandering story with enough holes to make swiss cheese jealous? Seriously though, I would like to know your thoughts, and I will say it worked well as a book club title, as it made for a good book discussion.