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Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Writer's Life 5/22 - Giants

Born in Boston in 1966, Elizabeth McCracken has written five books, two novels, two story collections and a memoir. I just finished her first novel, The Giant's House, published in 2007, finalist for the National Book Award. Although completely different from Stendahl's classic Scarlet and Black, I had a similar reaction to it -- I didn't like the protagonist/narrator, in this instance a librarian who inwardly is a misanthrope. Why this attractive, educated young woman takes such a dim view of life is a mystery. Does it need explanation? I don't think so. It's not uncommon. Some people are just that way, and it's not always attributable to hardship. Some who have suffered terrible abuse are still capable of joy. The woman in question grew up in a stable household. Twice in the narrative, which is set in the 1950's, she says: "She had parents who were in love with each other, and that is a blow no child can recover from." At first I thought the sentence one of the most bizarre I'd ever read. Then I wondered if she meant it is as difficult to match that kind of happiness as it is for the children of the highly successful to match a parent's accomplishments. Anyway, McCracken conjured a fresh view of the human condition in her characters, the 30-year-old librarian and the adolescent giant who won't stop growing. She is more than a decade older than him, he is incapable of having sex, and he is likely to die young, yet she falls in love with him. I don't know where the author got her information about the condition -- or if she even bothered to do a lot of research about it. Whatever -- it rings with authenticity. The trials of such a man, more than eight feet tall, are fascinating. The problems alone with his feet are riveting. It takes a talented writer to pull off something like that. The prose and dialogue are solid, although a bit difficult at times. I particularly liked this observation, which comes late in the narrative: "Library books were, I suddenly realized, promiscuous, ready to lie in the arms of anyone who asked. Not like bookstore books, which married their purchasers..." Is the novel on the level of Scarlet and Black? Of course not, although who can never really say for sure what will endure. Regardless, The Giant's House is damn fine work. 143 readers have rated it at Amazon, forging to a consensus of four out of five. I wouldn't go quite that high. If only the librarian had been warmer. She is not mean or uncivil but infuriatingly negative inwardly and reserved, cold even, outwardly. Maybe I should simply credit McCracken for being uncompromising in her vision of the character.

My thanks to the giant of a mom who bought five children's books for her two pre-school girls, the only business of the day for the floating book shop in Park Slope.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:

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