Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Backlist Book Club Review: The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

The backstory: The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken's first novel, is the first pick in The Backlist Book Club. It was also a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award.

The basics: Set in 1950's Cape Cod, The Giant's House is the story of an unlikely friendship between public librarian Peggy Cort and James, the giant of the title. Peggy and James meet at the library when he comes with class at the age of eleven and already over six feet tall.

My thoughts: I confess: I was nervous going into this novel. It came highly recommended from a friend whose reading taste I trust immensely, and I always have a pang of 'but what if I don't like it?' In this case, however, I spent a lot of time contemplating which title to pick for the first pick of The Backlist Book Club. I know the success or failure won't hinge on the first selection, but I really wanted to love the first pick. And I did.

Despite my misgivings of this novel being billed as a love story between a twenty-something librarian and a boy she meets when he's eleven, it utterly charmed me. The shining star of this novel is McCracken's writing. If you follow my oft-neglected tumblr, you were inundated with brilliant passages over the few days it took me to read this novel. There were nuggets of wisdom on libraries, "The idea of a library full of books, the books full of knowledge, fills me with fear and love and courage and endless wonder," that gave as much insight into Peggy as libraries.

While I loved this novel from the beginning, the ways in which I loved it changed as it progressed. Initially, it was McCracken's writing and discourse on libraries that reeled me in. Soon, despite our differences, Peggy enchanted me. As James grew older (and taller), he became more fascinating to me. By the end, I was amazed at the boldness and patience of McCracken to tell a story this way. It's emotion and poignancy snuck up me.

Favorite passages (I couldn't pick just one):  "Despite everything, I never felt jealous at weddings. I longed for love, yes,but I never saw that love was in greater supply at weddings than in butcher shops or department stores. The sight of a couple furtively holding hands 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 do not like public ceremony, not graduations, not weddings; not pep rallies, nor church. Perhaps I simply do not understand trying to share one emotion (love, relief, faith, pep) with a quantity of strangers."

"Isn’t it funny how the faithful only reaffirm our faithlessness in everything except ourselves?"

The verdict: I loved everything about The Giant's House: the writing, the characters, the tenderness, the honesty, and the library setting. It's both immensely literary and accessible, and it's a novel deserving of more readers.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: June 1, 1996
Source: library

There's still time: join in! On Friday, November 30, I'll be hosting a discussion of The Giant's House. Grab a copy and join me!

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Giant's House from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle version.)

 As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. Hm, I don't know this author, but I had the same reaction when I read the first part about the kid being 11 in the beginning, LOL.

  2. Oh yay! I just found my copy of this one -- so happy I did not donate it.

  3. I read this years ago, long before I started blogging. I can't remember it that well, but I do remember really liking it. A scene stands out to me - her helping James clean his feet, or something? An odd but very good book. Did you read her memoir about losing a baby? I think that's what she wrote about...

  4. That quote was so good that I immediately went to Kobo to buy it. Unfortunately, it's not available as an e-book so I placed a hold on this.


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