Geoff Ryman’s Was (a novel)

Geoff Ryman’s Was (a novel) is something that I saw mentioned or eventually linked to from a tweet by Susan Stinson.  From the blurb I knew this was my kind of novel, and it did not disappoint.  A complex overlapping set of stories that veers from the very, very mundane and depressing to the fantastical, the novel follows several characters with ties and obsessions to the Wizard of Oz, including an “original” Dorothy Gael in Kansas, a young Judy Garland, and an actor dying of AIDS in the late 1980s.  The book is poignant, scary, hopeful, revealing and tremendously well-written.  Several themes mix in complex ways: how childhood sticks to us all into adulthood (think Rosebud); how marginalized identities (especially being gay, being orphaned, being a woman, being physically disabled) take up the entire canvas of life for many people; how we search, hide, create, manipulate a past to construct our present; how we select, and lie, as we define our place in the world; and ultimately how we have (or there exists, which is what we want to believe) power, deep within, and by listening and caring for others, we can create and recreate our own reality.  The scenes of Dorothy, living in the psychiatric state nursing home for 60 years, and interacting with Bill, someone who for the first time actually cares enough to listen, are very powerful.  Profoundly pessimistic and hopeful at the same time.  If that is your tone, read this gem.

Icing on the cake: Reading more about Ryman, I discovered he was the author of Have Not Have (eventually published as Air) which was absolutely one of the very best short novellas in realist anthropological sci-fi I have read in the past two years.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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