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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
*dies* Doncha just hate hate HATE it when something this good comes along... 
6th-Jan-2006 10:02 pm
And you've got far less interesting things that you really "should" be doing? >_<

Well, that was yours truly today, wrestling between obligations and the almost compulsive drive to finish one of the best novels that I have read in recent memory.

Okay, now I'm gonna have to track down ALL of Ryman's books, even the out-of-print ones:

Ryman, Geoff. Was. 1992. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Summary: A haunting story of the unenviable life of real Dorothy Gael from Kansas, the girl who performs her role in the film, and Jonathan, a horror flick actor dying of AIDS who grew up loving Oz and its inhabitants, now on his deathbed obsessively tracing history back to its source.
Comments: What's there to say, really? This novel was PERFECT...in no small part because the author utilized his writerly strengths so effectively. There aren't that many writers out there who can inhabit such a myriad of different types of historical characters with such finesse, and Ryman is also gifted at blurring the lines between different realities. (He does something quite similar at the end of Lust as well.) I felt, at times, that the whole Judy Garland subplot was extraneous and/or underused, but it makes sense. Otherwise, the way all the threads of the novel eventually come together--the way the young aide at the psychiatric hospital meets Dorothy and realizes who she is then turns out many years later to be Jonathan's therapist who puts him on the scent, for example--is masterful. The heart of the novel is of course Jonathan, with his obsession for history, going to Lancaster and looking up Judy Garland, going to Kansas to find the real Dorothy Gael. There is something in this particular passion for preserving history that seems evocative of certain strands of gay culture, but I'm not up on that, so I can't make any more in-depth commentary. The overarching statement of the novel, that we should look to the past in lieu of the present or the future as the focus of our lives, seems a powerful criticism of the American myth of progress and of Manifest Destiny. (Now that I think about it, there were some interesting notions of history as well in Angels in America. I wonder if it's all connected somehow...? *ruminates* As you can see, this novel has given me lots to chew on.) Regardless, it seems that Ryman is an Americanophile, and he (or his editor) has gotten the American vernacular down pat, even in descriptive passages, so that you'd never guess without being told that it wasn't an American at all writing the novel, but rather an Englishman. The effect, at least for me, is comfortably unexperimental, undistinguished Standard English prose. Yet, almost paradoxically, this is easily one of the best novels I've read in recent memory, hands down.
Notes: trade paperback, 8th printing
Rating: 9.5/10 - Though some might find this book to be unbearably depressing, the author's unabashed passion for his subject and writerly skill was, for me, a wholly thrilling experience.
7th-Jan-2006 03:18 am (UTC)
Ryman was a writing teacher of mine. Just hearing him speak gives me goosebumps!
7th-Jan-2006 03:19 am (UTC)
Really? *jealous* What about what he said was so amazing? I'm curious...
7th-Jan-2006 03:59 am (UTC)
When he describes the subtext of the Wizard of Oz or his other favorite movie, Casablanca, he makes connections you never saw before. Plus, he's a trained actor, and knows how to read his fiction aloud. He's also like, 6'7 or something. I'm 5'2, and my head ends where his waist begins! His "Air" is an impressive piece of science fiction writing--the heroine is an illiterate 53 year old Chinese woman.
7th-Jan-2006 04:53 am (UTC)
Wow, it's too bad his books don't have audiobook versions. Do you know if he writes any cultural criticism as well? From what you say, it sure sounds like he might, but there doesn't seem to be anything obvious out there.
18th-Jan-2006 01:54 pm (UTC) - WAS by Geoff Ryman
I confess - I just recommended your LJ to someone and thought I'd check out some of your reviews that I never had a chance to read. I was surprised that I missed this one.

It's weird because when I bought Ryman's book LUST last summer (I really loved LUST, by the way), I didn't realise he had also written WAS. I attempted to read WAS about two years ago and found the bits with the "real" Dorothy Gael so upsetting, for some odd reason, that I only got about forty pages into it (if that). I guess I'm one of those who find it "unbearably depressing," which is weird for me since I usually prefer books that are sad or vaguely disturbing (like DREAM BOY or AS MEAT LOVES SALT). Now that I see you give it 9.5 stars, I must give it another go.
18th-Jan-2006 03:42 pm (UTC) - Re: WAS by Geoff Ryman
Err...who is this? blake_fraina? ^^;

But, definitely, give Was another go. I thought it was several orders better than Lust--it has a visceral power and sweeping grandeur that Lust does not.
30th-Jan-2006 09:11 pm (UTC)
Review archived.
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