The Next Queen of Heaven - Gregory Maguire The only other Maguire novel I've read is his now legendary Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, 20 years ago when I was a callow graduate student at UCLA. I remember liking it more for the subversive revision of the children's classic than for any other reason. I enjoy that kind of literature - Jason & Medeia, The Looking Glass Wars, Gloriana, Or The Unfulfill'd Queen, King Jesus: A Novel, et al.

When I read the blurb for this novel, I expected something along the lines of James Morrow but got Miriam Toews instead.

This isn't a bad thing: I like Ms. Toews. In fact, I like her more than I do Maguire, so I wasn't disappointed - much. There's much to like in this novel but nothing that's particularly great. A lot of the characters are stock "types" you find in novels of this kind and the story can be formulaic. Maguire's worst offense in this regard (IMO) is the plotline involving Jeremy Carr, the gay choir director of the Catholic church, and his friends Sean and Marty. It felt tacked on and passionless. Compared, at any rate, to the story of Tabitha Scales and her family.

Tabitha is the most potentially interesting character in the novel and there are points when you can see what Maguire could have done if he had been more focused on her:

"Now Tabitha was walking along with the whole globe inside her, the whole brightly colored existence, all its impossible skins and layers and transparencies. It was hard to think about it.... (T)he whole globe was in her, and in the globe was the eensy little baby with it little kicking feet, and the whole baby's life was in there with it, and the whole world it would experience, it was all right there inside her....

She walked past Pastor Jakob Huyck, who with his usual timing just happened to be driving by. He rolled down his window and said, `Going somewhere?'

`Not going,' she called, `coming. I'm coming.' In an earlier month she would have said this sexily, but the sound in her own voice was more than sexy. It was godly.

She waved him by and kept walking, loving herself almost for the first time. She walked all the way to the gas station, thinking about everything and nothing at once."
(p. 285-86)

The other potentially interesting group of characters are the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mysteries, a group of geriatric nuns exiled to a near forgotten home outside of Thebes.

By rights, this book falls somewhere between 2.5 and 3 stars, so I can't wholeheartedly recommend it but if you like Maguire or this type of fiction, you may enjoy it.