There’s no book like Was

“Dorothy,” said Aunty Em. “Please come back. You were the light of my life. You were what kept me going all those years.”

These lines, said by the “real” Aunty Em to depressed adolescent Dorothy in Geoffrey Ryman’s captivating novel Was, kind of make me want to call my mom to apologize for the teen years. Now that I have a tween of my own, I have a better idea of how the pain of adolescence also affects the parents. It probably really sucks.

My mom right now: “Duh.”

I loved Was when my BFF James gave it to me way back in 1994. I’m always drawn to anything related to The Wizard of Oz, and this is a wildly inventive and original book. Rereading it now, I definitely feel like it could use an edit, but I also appreciate it on some newer levels. Most of it is about the (fictitious) Dorothy Gale, living a sad life in 19th century Kansas, who unknowingly inspires Frank Baum. It’s also about Jonathan, a dying actor in 1980s Hollywood who’s playing the Scarecrow in a tv revival as his final role. Along the way there are some killer scenes about Judy Garland, and a therapist who connects Dorothy and Jonathan, and is really the heart of the book. This is entertaining, emotional, original, well worth the time. It also has one of my favorite bits of dialogue I’ve ever read, when Jonathan is talking to a waiter about why he prefers Kansas to LA:

“Got more history than Los Angeles. Los Angeles, they just bury it under the freeway.”

“Oh, but the shopping is wonderful!”

“Your values suck.”

My brother Kevin loves that line so much.