Reflection: Son of a Witch

After far too long, I’ve dredged my way through Son of a Witch, the sequel to Gregory Maguire’s popular Wicked. Apologies to Mr. Maguire, but reading this was a waste of my time. Major spoliers follow.

Son of a Witch follows the life of Elphaba’s son Liir from approximately the end of Wicked (age 15?) to what I’d guess are his late 30s, when he becomes a father. I was going to say that it’s another life account, like Wicked, but looking at the numbers that’s not strictly true. Instead I will say that this is a very long slice-of-life. Maguire does more world-building and we follow Liir as he makes his way, somewhat aimlessly, through that world. The plot is thin, with the protagonist’s efforts and motivations rarely corresponding to the actual events that occur. In the end, it doesn’t mean much. Either I’m missing something really important, or this was a pointless book. I’m not sure why it was written, beyond fan-service.

I feel like the book is stuck somewhere between an effort to tell a mundane life and a need to make its protagonist extraordinary to match its setting. It doesn’t help that Liir himself is musing on his own significance throughout the book. One of the most powerful techniques in Wicked was that we did not hear Elphaba’s thoughts until near the end of the book, forcing us to work to pick up her motivations and understand her character. Here, we quickly grow tired of Liir, who does a lot of thinking about how stupid he is, and shows a lack of initiative given that he’s the son of Elphaba and the protagonist of a book.

It’s not all bad, of course. Maguire’s style of bringing Oz to life is fascinating; on top of detailing the politics and geography of the place, he really works to get the mood and attitude of the various peoples right. One is never overwhelmed by facts. The writing expresses the public temperature of different places and peoples very well; I think if Maguire wrote a history of Russia I might really enjoy it. Moreover, Maguire’s coy writing is in top form for most of the book, often picking words with clever double meanings and a director’s eye for picking out unusual details in a scene. I really do enjoy his writing on the sentence-level; I guess I just prefer the trees to the forest.

Call me simple, but I prefer a book that’s a little more heavy-handed with its message. Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein and Orwell tackle specific topics and I have left their books looking at the world differently. Herbert is a veritable wall of meaning that transformed my intellectual life. Maguire hasn’t done so well. Where Wicked was like a slight breeze (and I had to read it twice through to get that), Son of a Witch didn’t even pass gas. Oh well.

Next up: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman (some lowbrow philosophy to ease my wife and I back into books that make us think) and Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy on tape, practically the antithesis to Maguire.

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