I feel like a broken record, everyone, but let’s just put this out there again: it’s so difficult when books inexplicably don’t live up to your expectations. I always question myself – would this review read the same if I had not had any expectations whatsoever about The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken? I picked this one up on the recommendation of Sasha, a blogger I trust, so I had high hopes for this one. (Don’t worry, Sasha, I still trust your recommendations!)
As a book lover, there were certainly things that I loved about our narrator, a slightly stereotypical 1950’s young librarian, with an affinity for order and a grumpy streak. Peggy’s voice was both a joy and a detriment to this novel. She is at times brutally funny and observant, the prose well-written and, at times, beautiful, but it is also sometimes overwritten and unbelievable. The story itself is improbable, but not unbelievable. Peggy falls in love with a young patron at the library, a 15-year-old boy who has a disease that causes him to grow and grow until he is over 8 feet tall (and even then, he doesn’t stop growing).
The root of my dissatisfaction with The Giant’s House is, without a doubt, Peggy herself. I do not believe you have to like a character to read about them, and the way I felt about Peggy as a person is not really the issue. It’s more that I didn’t quite believe in Peggy. She was so extreme – self-deprecating, organized, obsessive, strange, lonely, but the idea of being extreme would be so obscene to her. She was a contradiction, but not in the way that all people contradict themselves. I’m also just not entirely sure why this novel was set in the 1950s, other than a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Is it so McCracken could avoid that pesky problem of the internet and what that would mean for James, an 8 foot tall boy? Is it so Peggy’s non-sexual interest in James could be more acceptable?
On the whole, I do not think The Giant’s House is a bad book, it’s just not perfect. I think there are plenty of people who would (and who do) love this novel. It is also worth mentioning that I did, after all, finish The Giant’s House and I don’t even regret staying up late to do so. But after so much build up through the first three quarters of the novel, I felt let down by the ending. But McCracken’s prose is something to be read, savored because it is delicious. So perhaps I can recommend it for that alone.
“Imagine what there is to collect: every exchange between a customer and a grocery store clerk, wrong numbers, awful baby talk to a puppy on the street, what people yell back at the radio, the sound the teenage boy outside my window makes when he catches the basketball with both his hands and his stomach, every oh lord said at church or in bed or standing up from a chair. Thank you, hey watch it, gesundheit, who’s a good boy, sweetness, how much? I love your dress.
An Anthology of Common Conversation. Already I can tell you it will be incomplete. In reference works, as in sin, omission is as bad as willful misbehavior. All those words go around and end up nowhere; your fondest wishes won’t save them.” (5)
“People think librarians are unromantic, unimaginative. This is not true. We are people whose dreams run in particular ways. Ask a mountain climber what he feels when he sees a mountain; a lion tamer what goes through his mind when he meets a new lion; a doctor confronted with a beautiful malfunctioning body. The idea of a library full of books, the books full of knowledge, fills me with fear and love and courage and endless wonder. I knew I would be a librarian in college as a student assistant at a reference desk, watching those lovely people at work. “I don’t think there’s such a book –” a patron would begin, and then the librarian would hand it to them, that very book.
Unromantic? This is a reference librarian’s fantasy.” (11)
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile
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