Jul 4, 2011

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

I am blown away by how talented a writer Maguire is. This book was incredibly popular around the time I was working in my first bookstore, and I kind of just assumed that meant it was going to be mediocre (most NY Times bestsellers are romances and mysteries, not exactly what literary snobs would call "high quality"). Boy, was I proved wrong.

Wicked, as most people at this point know, is the life story of Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West, who lives in Frank Baum's land of Oz. That's about where the similarities between the two stories end. There are the obvious recognizable characters, but around them, Maguire built up an entirely original, unique world. Oz has geology, various opposing theologies, political history, socioeconomic strife; in short, it has everything a real place does. Elphaba may be green and can't stand the feel of water against her skin, but she is all too human otherwise. We travel with Elphie through her complicated and willful adolescence, through her rebellious political activist stage, and through middle-aged regret. She is selfish to her core, believing that the world can be saved by her own actions and needing validation, in her own, quiet way, for all that she has done, both good and bad. Elphi is an anti-hero at its best; we can't help rooting for her, despite how unlikable she really is.

I am in awe of Maguire's skill, to have taken such well-worn, beloved ground and been able to create something so brilliant and unique from it. I know he's written quite a few other books in the same vein, and I would certainly like to read them, but I do hope he tries his hand at something different, just to see what he can do.

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