Saturday, January 5

‘Was…’ – Geoff Ryman

We usually open fiction reviews with a summary of the plot, but that’s not easy with Was…, which weaves together the stories of four people into an interesting whole spanning a hundred and fourteen years. In 1989 Jonathan is an out-of-work actor who, captured by the magic of The Wizard of Oz as a small boy, is searching for the truth before he dies of AIDS. In 1875 five-year-old Dorothy Gael is sent to live in Zeandale, Kansas, with her bitter aunt Em and distant uncle Henry after her beloved family died of “the Dip” (diphtheria) in St Louis. In 1927 Baby Frances Gumm performs with her two older sisters during the silent movies screened in her family’s movie house; they’re ever on the move because her beloved daddy keeps getting into some kind of trouble in every town they go to, trouble that makes her momma angry. And in 1956 former C-average high school jock Bill Davidson, while waiting for the draft, confuses his fiancé and family by choosing to work in a Home for the Mentally Ill in California.
Each of the stories is compelling, and the way they intersect is organic and believable. Each of the central characters develops in a compelling and unpredictable way, and the secondary characters are fully fleshed and realised. Like The Chronoliths, Was… looks at interconnectivity (though with less science) and, also like The Chronoliths, I’m glad I read it but, despite the strength of the elements of the text, I didn’t really enjoy Was… - I think because there’s so much bleakness, so much rage and powerlessness, and so little hope. – Alex

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