The Giant’s House: A Romance
What is the story behind that person who served you coffee this morning? What love has tortured the cab driver who gazes listlessly at you, awaiting a destination? What was the 82-year woman living next door like when she was just 25?
Everyone has a story, but that fact is not always obvious. In Elizabeth McCraken’s novel, The Giants House: A Romance, we find two characters with different lives, but similar needs. The setting is in the 1950’s and Peggy Cort is a 26-year-old librarian in a small town. Create a librarian stereotype, an Cort fits the mold — unmarried, cold, orderly, and predictable. We are introduced to her and the book with the line, “I do not love mankind.”
But what she will love is 11-year-old James Sweatt, a tall boy on his way to becoming a giant. In fact, by the end of the novel he is over 8-feet tall, although he is not yet 20 years old. While Peggy can live her life in anonymity, James has no choice but to show his story every time he steps out of the house.
Both characters are alienated from others who cannot understand their lives. Instead, they connect with each other and we watch as James grows up (literally) and Peggy becomes more a part of his life. She becomes immersed in his family and finally in James himself.
It is not giving away anything to say they love one another — the subtitle is “a romance.” But common notions of romance are lost as we see these two different people seeking some solace in the world. It is not a romance of bodies, but of lives.
McCracken has a deft hand, especially in this debut novel (1996). Early, when talking with James’ mother about his father, who left them long ago, she says to her:
“‘Ah. You’ve forgotten him.’
‘No.’ She sighed. ‘I can’t forget him. I don’t even try.'”
It is a line which reveals so much of James’ mother’s heartache and inability to move forward, yet it is done simply and undramatically. The narrator notes that it sounds like the line of a popular song, “and she made it sound like the truest sentence there ever was.”
And while the topics are serious, McCracken injects humor through the observations of both Peggy and James. Peggy’s quiet life masks an attentive spirit who misses little and dismisses much. She talks about her dislike of weddings, not because she was jealous — she was only jealous of love. “The sight of a couple furtively holding hand beneath a restaurant table was more likely to remind me of the hopelessness of my life than any number of ladies dressed in giant christening gowns reciting words to become joined to a man in a rented suit.”
I will not reveal any endings, but suffice it say that McCracken refuses to take the easy way out. Apparently McCracken used the life of real-life giant Robert Wadlow, who died in 1940. Like Wadlow, James is from a small town and does promotional stints for a shoe manufacturer and time with the circus. McCracken herself was a librarian until taking to writing. But whether Wadlow loved a librarian is not really important. This is not a story of how we appear, but who we are.