A review of

Going Out

by Scarlett Thomas

Central question: Can an unwell English boy find his personal Wizard of Oz?
Format: 368 pp., paperback; Size: 8.04” x 5.16”; Run: 11,000; Price: $13.00; Agent: Simon Trewin; Publisher: Anchor; Wizard of Oz character author relates to most: the Cowardly Lion; Author conceived of novel: during a lunar eclipse; Title of author’s next book: PopCo; Only book about writing that’s worth reading (according to author): Stephen King’s On Writing; Representative sentence: “Smiling, having finally got the joke, she put on her My Little Pony nightie and went to sleep listening to her parents having sex.”

Few American stories have been adapted as often as Frank Baum’s 1900 publication, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which has spawned movies, books, musicals, even bedsheets. In her new novel, Going Out, British author Scarlett Thomas offers up a modern-day retelling of the fable which highlights its candidacy as the ultimate Western self-help story.

Set in suburban England, Going Out stars a group of Reality Bites–meets–Bridget Jones twentysomethings in search of cures for their various personal afflictions. At the center of the story are Luke, a twenty-five-year-old boy-man who has a rare allergy to the sun, and his best friend Julie, a bright but fragile young woman whose extreme anxieties have trapped her in a safe but unchallenging routine. When Luke decides to “go out” into the world for the first time to meet an Internet healer, Julie is forced to escort him and a cast of their variously adrift friends and neighbors to Wales—via the “yellow roads,” or B roads, on the map. The allusions to the original Wizard of Oz story are fun to pick out: the extreme weather conditions in which the friends begin their journey, the “witches” who interfere, and the characters themselves, each of whom harkens back to one of Baum’s original Emerald City journeymen.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Jessica Shattuck

Jessica Shattuck’s short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker and her first novel, The Hazards of Good Breeding, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2003 and Winship/PEN Award finalist. She is currently adapting it for the screen and working on her second novel.

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