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Recommended Fiction: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

by Pamela Tarajcak on 2022-11-14T14:56:36-05:00 | 0 Comments

“Maud Baum had been waiting on foot outside the massive front gates of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for almost an hour, just another face among the throngs of visitors hoping for a chance to get inside.” (4) 

Cover ArtFinding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Call Number: FIC LETT (Youngstown)
ISBN: 9780525622116
Publication Date: 2019-12-03

Maud Baum could have easily lacked an individual identity. She had way too many strong personalities surrounding her. As a child, she was the daughter of noted suffragette Matilda Gage. When she grew up, she met and married L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books.  Nevertheless, she remained a strong-willed person in her own right.  

In this book, Finding Dorothy, Letts writes a fictional account of Maud’s life. She does this by interweaving two time periods.  One storyline takes place as Maud is reflecting on crucial periods of her life.  We are party to her childhood of an exacting mother who required much of her daughters.  We are witness to her education at fine schools in New York State where Maud becomes friends with L. Frank’s sister. We spy on her meeting with the young Frank when he said, “Consider yourself loved.” We are a fly on a wall to the most important parts of her marriage to Frank: the eternal financial difficulties, the births of their four sons, the move to the Dakota territory which inspired Frank forever, and his eventual writing of the first Oz book—culled from his many stories that he told his sons and their friends over the years.  We observe the exploding popularity of the Oz books and how Baum became an eternal promoter of his invented world over the years.  The “main” time period of the novel takes place in 1939 as Maud is interacting with the cast and crew of the now famous film and fighting the studio boffins into preserving the tone of her husband’s work. She also encounters the person of Judy Garland in whom she finds a person desperately in need of help. Judy is abused by her mother and consumed alive by a ruthless studio system; both are making Frances Gumm disappear into the persona of Judy Garland.  Maud tries to intervene in Garland’s life and gradually, while advocating for her husband, she also starts advocating for Garland.   

This book is perhaps one of the best I’ve read in a while; it became a favorite and has stuck with me ever since I first read it last year. You will notice through the summary of the book above that I used so many synonyms for the word “witness.” That was intentional. The story is so well developed that you feel like you’re actually journeying with Maud through her life. Because most of the characters are historic figures, hence real people, Letts truly writes them with that in mind, with all of their foibles intact.  Letts also writes with an emotional resonance that will catch anyone, especially in the last few chapters when the film’s most famous song is highlighted. This book will be not only enjoyable, emotional, but also educational.  I know a bit about the film and the Baums/Gages and Letts has a historical felicity to both.  

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Oz, wants to explore a crucial slice of Americana, or just loves a good story that they could immerse themselves in.   

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