Ada, arguably the second main character in After Alice (when she should have been the first), is a “sickly” child who wears a metal contraption in order to have feminine posture and a womanly gait. She falls down the “rabbit hole” while her sister Lydia, arguably the first main character, is engaged with Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I hoped would play a bigger role in Alice because I think the two pair relatively well. Lydia is busy finding her place as the woman of her household after her mother dies. She’s not quite sure how to act appropriately with male visitors, but in the end typically just does what she wants. To us, this looks like her talking out of turn, leaning a little too long in a doorframe in the direction of a man, and walking alone through the silent garden paths of Oxford with Mr. Winter.Mr. Winter is trying to convince Darwin (of all people to have in Alice and he wasn’t even used, just a tired old man who needed an in-home nursing assistant) to honor the abolitionist side in America with his endorsement. Winters has adopted a fugitive boy named Siam who also ends up in Wonderland, a very strange twist on his fate. When Ada gets lost, her all too annoying nanny searches for her throughout the story’s length of a day, Mrs. Armstrong (headstrong), who believes all too entirely that due to Ada’s sickly nature she shouldn’t be out gallivanting with Alice who often loses herself in the day.
While Lydia is busy trying to push her feminine woes onto Mr. Winter until she realizes she would have to be a mother to Siam, Ada is in Wonderland questioning rose bushes who have polite disgust for the girl, meeting Carpenters, hiding in seaweed skirts, riding kites with marionettes, and running from the Jabberwock which turns out to be her very own metal contraption (don’t worry I’m not ruining this for anyone).
My biggest problem with the story doesn’t lie in the actual plot, but in the telling. Maguire has a way to make every book inherently boring because of his use of words that NO ONE has ever heard of. I have an English degree, and teach high school English daily, and I just knew to have a dictionary “at the ready” while I was reading. It was a huge snooze fest. Even in the middle of a beheading, I just wanted the whole thing to end. In normal circumstances, every book with a hint of Alice, I would politely pah-pah and not tear down, but this was such a sham of a book.Gregory Maguire wanted to write a book about England’s view of slavery, add Darwin to the mix for no purpose, and host a gaggle of unimportant characters while a child runs through Wonderland and has the occasional conversation that makes the reader just giggle. There was hardly any whimsy in this book. Gregory Maguire wants to retell stories, but he doesn’t want to keep the initial essence of the original. In order to remix a story, the essence and the bits that reader’s love need to remain true. When I read Alice, I don’t want an education, unless it’s an education on the philosophy or my own inner feelings. I don’t want cringe-worthy details about sexism and racism when I pick up a retelling of Alice, I’m looking for the strangeness of a world that feels more like home than the “real word” where sexism and racism doesn’t even care to stay in the shadows any longer and just walks out in the street naked. This was a book where nothing happened. Nothing changes. Ada will return to the “real world” and to a reality of being judged for her apparatus. Lydia will remain a woman that’s expected to keel at a man’s expectations. This, Gregory Maguire, is just what we tried to escape in Alice. Alice is a girl who does what she wants, who speaks to the unspeakable, who fights the legends, the expectations, the roles, and just lives the extraordinary in a world that wants to keep everyone except rich, white, men, at ordinary. Thanks for writing another book of history where even through escape, women are just stuck one world below.