Queer is the only way to accurately describe this novel. It is playful, bold, risqué, but ultimately, in my opinion, boring. The story takes off a few years after The Wizard of Oz ends; Dorothy has inexplicably and regretfully returned to Victorian USA from Oz and has been prostituting herself to raise funds to return to the Kansas farm where the gateway to Oz is located. One night, she is arrested and finds herself in a cell with Frannie, aka Frank, aka Toto. Frank is a transvestite bisexual with an intersex wife and a remarkable history of his own. In a road-trip across the country, these two friends swap their life stories. Although the novel is sometimes shocking and amusing, the playfulness of the conversations cannot hide the flatness of the plot.
Dorothy tells of her first adventure: a crush on Glinda, her trip down the Yellow Brick Road with Scar and Leon to find clockwork penises, and a narrow escape from the witch Elfa and her Fetish Forrest. There’s even bestiality; at one point, Dorothy tells Frank:
The more I saw and heard, the more that damn Elfa was pissing me off. Granted, I didn’t think most of the Mounties had been stellar human beings to begin with, but to be turned into humping monkeys just to satisfy her libido – not to mention her ego?
That bitch was going down. I just had to figure out how.
The idea of putting a playful, queer twist on the Oz story had a lot of appeal initially, but as the novel went on I couldn’t help but realise that it was really more style than substance or plot. Although the author sets up some interesting scenarios and obstacles for Dorothy and her friends, each adventure peters out into something much less exciting than one hopes for.
Meanwhile, in a postmodern twist, Frank’s story, loosely based on L. Frank Baum’s biography, offers explanations for real events in Baum’s life. Frank claims that his exile to military school was a consequence of a homosexual encounter, and he even attempts to explain Baum’s racism towards Native Americans in terms of jealousy towards his wife’s ex-lover. Although Frank’s part of the novel deals with homophobia and gender issues, they do not relate to either the Victorian period of Baum’s life or to current times but something in-between which results in lack of relevance. Towards the end of the novel, he admits to Dorothy that he has turned her story into a children’s novel, giving their fantastic road-trip story an almost metafictional twist.
The most disappointing thing about this novel is Dorothy’s return to Oz. The author tries to cram in another adventure for Dorothy by creating a Munchkin rebellion in which Glinda seeks Dorothy’s help. But there is simply not enough of a connection between the characters to sustain interest in what turns out to be a very boring rebellion. The reader, along with Dorothy, quickly becomes disillusioned with Glinda, yet the relationships that succeed this primary love interest are flat and unconvincing.
Overall, Queer and Loathing is a very disappointing book. The novelty and promise of queerness is too much of a burden for the disappointing plotline to really let the narrative develop. The characters and their exploits seem to be mere pretexts for all the sex-toys and glitter. I’d recommend Queer and Loathing if you are an aspiring writer looking for something a bit different to play with, and if you have an interest in postmodernism, intertextuality and queerness. As a novel for the average reader, it wouldn’t be worth the RRP.