As I looked over a few reviews about the book, it seems that readers approached it with the expectation that it would be 'Fantasy.' One person concluded that it was 'anti-fantasy' because it exploded the fantasy around the Wizard of Ox, creating the reality that the fantasy had come from, which was not the prettiest place.
Like The Kings Last Song, the book goes back and forth between times, following the lives of Dorothy Gael, an orphan sent to live with her Aunty Em, Jonathan, a gay man with AIDS trying to find Oz, a Frank Baum who was a substitute teacher who stimulated his students to think of another life outside the confines of Kansas, Bill who meets an old crazy woman in a mental hospital and changes his life.
At the end of the book, Ryman writes about his sources and how they fit into the story.
I fell in love with realism because it deflates the myths, the unexamined ideas of fantasy. It confronts them with forgotten facts. It uses past truth - history.
I love fantasy because it reminds us how far short our lives fall from their full potential. Fantasy reminds us how wonderful the world is. In fantasy, we can imagine a better life, a better future. In fantasy, we can free ourselves from history and outworn realism.
Oz is, after all, only a place with flowers and birds and rivers and hills. Everything is alive there, as it is here if we care to see it. Tomorrow, we could all decide to live in a place not much different from Oz. We don't. We continue to make the world an ugly, evenmurderous place, for reasons we do not understand.
Those reasons like in both fantasy and history. Where we are gripped by history - our own personal history, our country's history. Where we are deluded by fantasy - our own fantasy, our country's fantasy. It is necessary to distinguish between history and fantasy wherever possible.
And then use them against each other.