|Elizabeth McCracken: The Giant's House|
Perennial (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0-380-73020-0
James Carlson Sweatt stood seven feet six at the age of sixteen. Known as "the Giant," he attracted the stares of disoriented tourists who came to gawk at his ever-increasing height.
In The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken draws a sympathetic portrait of a man who grew into size 37 shoes. Other people measure their lives in milestones: birthdays, celebrations and achievements. James marked his like the draught on a ship, indicating the waterline as he wallowed through life. Too large for a car, he walked alone.
At six, he made out the library card in the square scrawl of a child doomed to escape within the pages of a book. By 11, he towered at six feet, attracting the attention of Peggy Cort, the librarian at the Brewesterville Public Library. But then any librarian would find it difficult to ignore someone who constantly renews the same book of magic tricks for children or sits repeatedly in the same place. Librarians remember patrons by their book titles, their special sections and the nooks they frequent.
Through the eyes of Peggy Cort we see the Giant's dilemma. Tall but too awkward and fragile for basketball, James retreats into solitary pleasures. His bones outgrow his tendons and ligaments, entailing surgery that further complicates his life. His enormous feet outgrow the normal sizes, necessitating custom-made shoes too expensive to afford. Other folks enjoy hobbies and professions. James can look forward only to further growth and occasional work as a freak show exhibit.
Sensitive to his isolation, Peggy Cort embarks on a community project, building a cottage of relative size so that he can sit and sleep without breaking the bed or the chairs. Meanwhile, yearning for personal fulfillment but unable to find suitable work, James agrees to pose for a shoe company. The job ends quickly, but his growth doesn't.
Everyone possesses quirks and differences, some that stigmatize and isolate them from their fellows. McCracken quietly investigates James' alienation from society -- a process that happens ever so gradually like climbing sidewise up the front steps of the public library. On a more humorous note, she contrasts the public and private lives of her main characters. In particular, the very public Peggy Cort considers herself the antithesis of a humanitarian. Yet she empathizes with the reticent James.
McCracken further augments her tale with a wealth of commentary on the position of public librarians and the myth of Maid Marian. The result is a joy for all library lovers and a special treat for librarians.
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