Wednesday, November 25, 2015

After Alice

by Gregory Maguire
273 pgs

Gregory Maguire has made a name for himself out of reimagining classic children's stories and presenting them from another character's perspective. Everyone in the industrialized world is familiar with the musical Wicked, but if you hadn't read his book from which it was adapted, and picked it up expecting a story resembling the play, you'd likely be disappointed. His books tend to be more sociopolitical commentaries disguised as children's stories, than children's stories themselves.

This time it's Lewis Carroll's classic story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that receives his treatment. Ada Boyce is a young friend of Alice Clowd, but while Carroll created Alice as an innocent young girl, Maguire creates Ada with some baggage. Her mother drinks, her father is a preacher, and Ada is forced to wear an iron brace to correct her deformed back.

On the same day that Alice slipped away fro her sister's care and followed the white rabbit down his hole, Ada, looking for her friend, also stumbles into that same hole. As Ada encounters many of the same characters that Alice met, and has similarly absurd interactions with each of them, she quickly realizes that her friend is in Wonderland as well and that she needs to rescue her and return her to the world above.

Throughout the rest of After Alice Maguire alternates his story back and forth between the adventures Ada is having in Wonderland with the events taking place in Oxford above, and the search for the two missing girls.

There are numerous aspects of this story and book that Maguire excels at: First of all, during the chapters that take place in Wonderland, he perfectly captures the tone, word play, and absurdity that Carroll's original stories contained. Maguire also stays true to the characters Carroll created--you get the impression that Alice just left each of them a few minutes before Ada comes across each of them.

As clever as the book is as a whole, it suffers from the same thing that eventually led me to abandon the Oz books--I got bored. That's never a good sign when I'm reading a book. It seemed to drag in places for me, and while I understood what Maguire was trying to do in going back and forth between Wonderland and Oxford, and showing how each one was equally absurd in its own way, ultimately, I didn't really care.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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