Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Report: Naked & Wicked

It’s time for a book report. Two reports, to be more accurate and sadly, neither of them will be all that glowing. The two books I’ve recently read and will be reviewing are Naked, by David Sedaris and Wicked, by Gregory Maguire and both can be summed up as full of potential, but sadly, pulling short of it’s promise.


Naked, by David Sedaris is a collection of stories from the life and times of its author, who came very highly recommended for his prose and wit. Each of these is in evidence, but in too short an abundance. If I had to sum it up quickly, I’d say this is a book about a gay hitchhiker and the countless times he is almost raped. Of course, he managed to pick some apples and care for a paraplegic girl too though.

There were times, when I admittedly laughed out loud and it’s hard to argue that the author’s prose at times isn’t amazing and colorful but each story from his life concludes without making a point. Time and again Sedaris builds a colorful story from his life, only to leave it to begin another, never learning what he took from that chapter, never finding out why these stories needed to be shared.

After the first couple stories end without any type of summation of lessons learned, I found myself believing that Sedaris was simply building up to the final chapter, which bore the same title as the book, in which I suspected he’d knot it all together in a way consistent with some of the brilliance in his writing.

I was wrong. There wasn’t a point to any of it at all. It was storytelling for the sake of storytelling. The final page flipped with a mocking tone that seemed to say, “Ha! Ha! All of this for nothing!”

Maybe if I’d had an old Greek grandmother, spent time at a nudist camp or had to sneak out of a double-wide trailer filled to the brim with dildos, it would have resonated more, or for that matter, at all. As it was, he told the stories of his life with no intent or purpose. It was writing for the sake of writing. That it could have been brilliant only served to make it a bitterer pill to swallow.


Wicked, by Gregory Maguire is well summed up by it’s title, but only if you take the word at it’s meaning. It’s not wicked awesome or wicked in the way bad can sometimes mean good. It’s just wicked.

Again, in this book, there is a world of potential, but in the end seems a narcissistic, self indulgent dissertation on good and evil, that somewhere along the way, sacrifices the story for the sake of it sermon.

As far as half way through this book, I was enjoying it thoroughly, despite Maguire’s seeming need to impress with his extensive vocabulary at the expense of the pace and flow of the story. It’s an interesting concept for certain, the infamous Wicked Witch of the West’s side of the story from the Wizard of Oz! The very idea reminded me of a favorite line spoke by Sir Alec Guinness in Return of the Jedi. “You’ll find a great many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view.”

This story, gives us the life and times of Elphaba, the girl born green, thought of by her own parents as both penance and punishment. The idea and its setup are brilliant, but again, sadly, they fail to deliver in the end. After a promising beginning, the book meanders and indulges it’s self rather than the story and its reader.

It’s well over 100 pages too long. It’s editor should be fired post haste. And sadly, the promise of the story and the early seeds of ingenuity spoil in a hasty finish that doesn’t even bother to mirror the ending in the original story, bending those scenes instead and explaining it away as different people remembering the story in different ways.

Maguire wants to teach us about good and evil and uses a classic storyline as his vehicle, but doesn’t do the original justice. Gone, after the opening, is the whimsical fantasy and sense of wonder that surely should have been a part of this book. Gone are any restrictions the original story should have applied, explained away hastily and unsatisfactorily. Maguire sacrifices the story for the sake of his point, and in doing so, loses on both counts.

I closed this book with a groan over wasted potential, wishing that someone like Terry Brooks could have written it instead. The reviews I’ve heard of the play based on this book make me think that the appropriate editing was done, the self indulgence was omitted and the sense of fantasy restored before the curtains went up. Bravo, if that’s the case. I only wish someone had the sense to do the same to this book.


After two bad ones in a row, I can only hope the next book doesn’t disappoint as these two have. And if it isn’t, I pray it reveals itself as such early on, so I won’t have to suffer through it’s entirety before realizing my immense disappointment. The literary gods owe me that much.

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