Sunday, April 11, 2010

I've Gone Back to Oz -- And I Don't Regret It!

Last night I made the rather strange decision to go back and continue to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  If you've been following me either on Facebook or on Twitter, you probably know that I have not been particularly enjoying Gregory Maguire's book. I've spent a lot of time pouring over reviews of this book in an effort to determine what has made it so popular and so successful, as I often do when I like an unpopular book or dislike a book that seems to be a fan favorite. The negative reviews of this book have helped me to know that I'm not alone, while the positive reviews made me feel a bit stupid.  I felt very confident when I put down Wicked and chose to read another book instead. 

Now here's the problem: I don't like to feel stupid. I am fairly certain that this is the purpose of writing a review that is designed to make the dissenting reader feel sub-standard -- If the reader is aggravated and frustrated enough, he or she will be much more likely to reconsider their position on the book in question. For this reason, I couldn't get Wicked out of my mind.
Last night I picked Wicked up again and began to read. I found myself initially surprised that I was enjoying the reading (however slow it was). Nothing about the writing or the sense of story had changed (meaning that something about me had changed). Somehow I was beginning to see the book in a different light.

This isn't a book review, since I'm not finished with the book, and I don't even consider it a mini-review, but I do have some things to say about Gregory Maguire's writing that had escaped me (and therefore probably others) in the past.
The first thing is that for a long time I've noticed that there was something missing in the story line. It was uncomfortable the way that friendships felt like they were developing over night and far more quickly than is realistic in the real world. The story jumped from one plot point to another without the connective tissue that really holds a story together, and I found the book difficult to follow for this reason.

When a meeting between two characters occurs several years following their last encounter, I found it uncomfortable that they seemed so familiar, when a relationship between the characters had never previously been established. 
Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. I got it, like a light bulb going off in my head!

Gregory Maguire writes is story as though we are school children in our early days of learning to love reading. He is writing his story as though we still have the beautiful and often forgiving imagination of a child, before grown-ups tell us that magic isn't possible. He is trusting the reader to fill in the gaps, to give the character personality that he doesn't write into the story, and to use their imaginations to see what happened when characters were apart from one another.

With this in mind, I find that I like Elphaba/Elphie/Fae, in large part because I am able to make her what I want her to be. If I want her to be the evil, wicked witch, I can do that. If I want to be sympathetic toward her plight, I can do that, too. I can make her cause my own or I can fight against her at every step because Maguire doesn't tell me which way I'm supposed to go.

I sense that in the end I am going to wind up enjoying this book for what it is worth, now that I have accepted that rather than being either "excellent" or "terrible" this book is merely "different."

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