The Oz Suite
Gerard Houarner

Eibonvale Press
Trade Paper, 152 pages, $12.00
Review by Sheila Merritt

The land of Oz rests on fertile, creative earth. The seeds of L. Frank Baum’s work flowered in the iconic 1939 film which contains unforgettable songs and often quoted dialogue. It continued its germination process in the musical The Wiz, and then later with author Gregory Maguire. Maguire’s book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, pollinated into the fabulously successful, long running stage show, Wicked. He is also the author of two other books set in the Oz universe. Another recent re-imagining rooted in Baum’s tale, is Tin Man, a 2007 television mini-series. It is back to the Judy Garland movie and down that specific yellow brick road that author Gerard Houarner follows in the three tales that comprise The Oz Suite. The film has a different resonance in each of the stories, but there is a common soil that is shared; an emotional, visceral reaction that seizes the characters. Their responses are varied, yet somehow unified by the turf of the terrain.

Author Houarner has stated that among the people he would like to have met, in terms of getting “a feel for them,” are Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick. In The Oz Suite, it seems he has metaphorically achieved this goal. With the previously published story, “No We Love No One,” Houarner addresses the theme of alien invasion. He references the films The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Village of the Damned. Yet, it is the movie The Wizard of Oz which establishes a connection between the first person narrator and the alien living in his home. It isn’t a pretty connection, but serves to delineate both of the characters’ personalities. At one point in this tale, the narrator states: “It was the first time I’d felt so afraid I couldn’t sleep. I was more alive than I had ever been.” That is a sentence which says volumes.

The second story, “Bring Me the Head of That Little Girl Dorothy,” is told in part by the King of the Flying Monkeys, observing a woman who perceives herself as The Wicked Witch. This perception/alternate reality gets in the way of her day job. It is fun to have a flying monkey, one of the scariest figures in the 1939 film, give his take on the psychosis of the witchy woman. This is the longest tale in the volume, and the most challenging.

The last piece, “The Wizard Will See You Now,” has to do with loss, trauma, and desire for answers to complicated questions. The narrator, who as a child physically survived a murder attempt, sees himself as “dead.” He embarks on a psychological journey, invoking images from The Wizard of Oz, attempting to find reasons/explications for the trajectory of his life.

The Oz Suite is a trilogy of tales that is thought provoking and fascinating in its use of a classic fantasy film as a focal point in each story. It is an astute reminder of how often people carry a (winged) monkey on their backs.

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