Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West - Gregory Maguire I saw the advertisements for the play Wicked and was intrigued by the poster and the premise. So I took the opportunity to take a peek into our favorite Witch.

Plot:
Elphaba is born to a minister and an adulterous mother. Being green and intelligent excludes her from having a very normal life. She goes to Shiz University where she meets up with Galinda/Glinda and begins to fight against the dictatorial Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, she is unable to perform her task and goes underground after her lover is executed. Events proceed until the movie "The Wizard of Oz" (WoO) takes over in the last fifth of the book.

Good:
Gregory Maguire is capable of writing in a manner that keeps you hanging on and wondering what is just behind the next page, even when he is in one of his political or religious rants. There were many times where I wanted to put this down, but something that Maguire would say would keep egging me on.
The sections I most enjoyed were the first and second with parts of the fourth and fifth. The first section was an interesting way to begin, but as the story progresses, not much that takes place during this time that seems meaningful. The second section about Elphaba at Shiz University was especially good--probably what I and others had hoped to see from this book. The pacing is good, the characters are pretty solid (Galinda is well-written as a society girl, Elphaba as a social outcast and yet a dissenter, Boq as a typical college boy and so on), the events are quite exciting--typical college life, Animal rights being revoked, a murder, and so forth. Although most of the events are never really resolved in this section, Maguire writes this section well enough that a person, such as myself, really wants to know what happens next. At the end of Section 4, Elphaba reunites with her father and her sister, Nessarose, and reminded me why I was reading this book--to learn about the history behind the Wicked Witch of the West. Section 5 continued this evolution.
Further, Maguire has built this Oz very carefully, filling in intriguing details and describing scenes and incidents very well. His elaborate map is only one instance of this; he also painstakingly describes Shiz, Emerald City, the trip to Vinkus, and other surroundings so that you are there where the action (however small it may be) is.

Bad:
As I continued to flip pages (and there are a lot, mind you), I kept thinking and thinking and thinking...what, in one short sentence, is wrong with this book? Was is the characters, the plot, Maguire's writing, the events? When I got halfway through the book, I realized what the problem was: this is not Oz from the classic 1939 movie. This is Earth in some other reality. Countries experience extreme drought. Oz has destitute people. The political climate could have been America during an election. The racial segregation and civil rights movements are plum out of the 60's. The dictator Wizard could have been Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or practically any other leader from history. College life is just like Earth--sororities, fraternities, boys sneaking to girls, libraries, lectures, drinking. Homer went to Oz and wrote the "Oziad" instead of the "Illiad". People are just like those on Earth, just from differently named cities/towns. Even the religions are practically the same! Unionism is probably Christianity, replete with the zealots. Worship of the Kumbric witch may represent Wiccan. Heck, even this Oz has a Christmas--disguised, not so cleverly, as Lurlinemas. Both are equally as commercialized. These uncanny similarities might not be so much of a problem, but I think most people wanted to read about Oz, not Earth disguised as Oz. I mean, that's kind of what I had in mind when walking into this. If I wanted to read about despotism, about vying religions, about college life, a commentary against commercialism in holidays, I would have chosen a different novel than this.
Further, this book is touted as analyzing what is wicked and what is not. Really? I didn't notice. I mean, the characters did occasionally bring up the subject--between pages upon endless pages about religions that are never fully explored, political viewpoints, Animal rights, and lots and lots of twisted sex between half-hearted characters. Where is the great debate about what is good and bad? Where do we see that the line is blurred? It appears for about two pages at the end, cloaked as it was behind all the fluff.
And was there fluff! Pages upon endless pages are spent talking about religions that have names and little else, politics that never do anything, and yards of unnecessary sexual situations. Many questions arise during this course but are never answered. What exactly do Unionism, Lurlinism, pleasure faith and others entail? Where did they come from? What function does the Time Dragon serve and why is it so respected? Who is the Kumbric Witch and why is she respected? What else does the Wizard do that is so bad? Where did the terrorist come from and what happened to them afterwards? Why do Fiyero and Elphaba fall in love? What is the purpose of the puppet scene? What happened that was so terrible at the Philosophy Club? How did it impact everyone? Are all the sexual scenes really necessary to describe what is going on (especially since they are thrown in helter-skelter and just drag the plot)?
Further, the characters are no where near what I have come to know them as and show little signs of being the people from the movie. How does Glinda become the sweet, good Witch of the North from a society diphead? How does the Wizard appear cruel and immoral and yet is so kind and stupid around Dorothy? And I thought he said that the people of Oz instituted him as Wizard, not that he came blazing with all guns on his balloon loaded and took over Oz. The Tin Man is said to have suffered from domestic violence--something that is revealed in the last 15 pages of the book. And Elphaba herself comes across as pathetic, powerless, and unable to care for herself. How does she become the manipulating, fear Wicked Witch of the West?
As if this weren't bad enough, characters on the whole appear and disappear as if cars on a highway. In the beginning, we have Melena, Elphaba's mother. But after section 1, she dies, never to be heard from again. Galinda/Glinda appears to narrate much of section 2 with Boq, a good character that abruptly drops of the face of Oz. Then, section 3 segues into the viewpoint of super-duper minor character mentioned twice in the previous section, Fiyero, who suddenly and without good reason has an affair with Elphaba. And then I realized that Elphaba's point of view doesn't even appear until Sections 4 &5 and even then only sparsely (between Nor and Oatsie)! I'm like, huh? Isn't she the Wicked Witch of the West that the story is supposed to be about? Why do we not get to see in her head until over halfway through the book? Was Maguire afraid of writing from her point of view? If this book is about the Wicked Witch of the West, why are more points of view about people other than the Wicked Witch of the West?
Relationships between above characters suddenly end up in something that was never expected or alluded to. Where did Fiyero and Elphaba's affair come from? She barely knew him in college, meets up with him because he follows her (why, I have no idea. Did he have a crush on her in college? I, for one, would have liked to know), talk a few times, and then have sex that is rather graphic and detailed.
Other plot points are brought up (Madame Morrible's offer, Dr. Dillamond's death, the resistance movement, the scene at the Philosophy Club, etc.) but suddenly disappear, never to be heard from again. With the way the parts are sectioned, I get the impression that Maguire actually wrote several short stories and blended it into one anthology. I just wish he would have worked some more on the short stories--they are pretty bad. The sections hop around in time, skipping over some really interesting events alluded to and concentrating on events that are really non-events.
Lastly, once Dorothy arrives, absolutely none of the events you see in the movie occur. Elphaba doesn't confront Dorothy in Munchkinland, she doesn't bewitch her on the Yellow Brick Road, no "pansies" cause Dorothy and friends to fall asleep, no message above the Emerald City, nada. It's like Maguire decided to construct his own version of the "Wizard of Oz".

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Wow. The f-word is used--didn't know they had that one in Oz!--along with da**, he**, etc.
The sexual situations in this book are most definitely adult. Kids definitely should not be reading this. Some of the sexual situations: Melena commits adultery. Elphaba sleeps with the married Fiyero. There encounters are described rather vividly. The Philosophy Club includes a scene between a Tiger and a man that is very disconcerting. Sarima's sisters are always vying for a man's (sexual) attention. And these are only a few.
Violence is comparatively "mild". Elphaba bites off the hand of a midwife after she is born. People are out to kill Frex and his wife after a show from the Time Dragon. Elphaba joins a resistance movement. Several people--an Animal, a young boy, Fiyero, and an old, sick woman--are killed.

Overall:
So many people have reviewed this book both positively and negatively. So what can I say about "Wicked" that will be new or at least a different angle?
Probably not much. I found the book a letdown. What I had hoped to find was more insight into the Wicked Witch, but really didn't get what I wanted. Instead, I got a heap of depression (better'd get my Valium!), more politics than a November election, characters that slip in and out of the story and do things that are never really explained, plot points that are really intriguing but are never explained or discussed again, and some of the best sleep I have ever had. At the end, I ask myself, "Is this the Wicked Witch of the West?" Because the movie portrays her completely differently.
If you are wondering whether or not to buy this book and want my opinion, here it is: Don't buy. Don't borrow. Just take out a pen and paper (or a computer) and write your own story about the Wicked Witch of the West. I'm sure you can come up with something just as good or better than Maguire.