What if Dorothy from “The Wizard Of Oz” really existed, Uncle Henry was a predatory paedophile, and Aunty Em and the dreadful Miss Gulch were the same person? That’s basically the main plot of this superficially bizarre, but very heartfelt post-modern take on the Oz legend.
But if it sounds like one of those dreary comical rewrites where everything is subverted just for laughs, then I’ve done it an injustice. “Was” purports to be the story of the real Dorothy, who meets L Frank Baum, who goes on to write the story of the life she should have had – the Oz books themselves.
It’s also the story of the making of “The Wizard Of Oz” movie, Judy Garland’s family strife mirroring the real Dorothy’s, and dying AIDS patient Jonathan’s obsession with them both. Everything is linked across the hundred-year span of the novel, and the end is also the beginning. But the result, a swirling mass of parallel lives across the centuries, comes across like a literary cyclone itself.
That said, this isn’t a particularly literary novel. I found it very easy to read, but to really appreciate it you need to appreciate either the film or the Oz books themselves. This isn’t a happy book, and there is little let-up from the misery. There are certainly no happy endings in the conventional sense. In a way, the characters are just swept away at the end of the novel, but when you get that far, this kind of seems fitting.
Unfortunately, this book seems to go in and out of print regularly, so snap it up whilst you still can!