I like the idea of librarians; unfortunately, I have never known a librarian that I really liked. Sure, they were pleasant enough, and helpful enough, and sympathetic enough to a first grader who wanted to find out who Nancy Drew was because she was being bullied by second graders for not knowing. I always thought that the books that surrounded them would lend them some of their magic -- together and by association. But the librarians I knew have been far from magical.
Peggy Cort from Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant's House has no delusions of being magical, either. She knows she is just a small-town librarian, reserved, withdrawn. At twenty-six, though, she meets a remarkably tall eleven-year old, and under these ordinary circumstances emerges Ms. McCracken's National Book Award Finalist.
Ms. McCracken pens a woman's loneliness with much familiarity. 'I loved him because I discovered that day, after years of practice, I had a talent for it (p. 89),' she lets Peggy narrate, as her odd friendship with the brilliant and sensitive giant, James Carlson Sweatt slowly develops into something more. The story takes place over a span of some nine, ten years so no, it's not as offensive as it sounds. The boy grows legal and reaches eight foot seven. There is no pedophilia. There is a lot of crying in the end, mostly from me.
Anyway, back to loneliness. Peggy Cort is a study in quiet desperation, although I wouldn’t really say that it is desperation that leads her to love a boy fifteen years younger than she is. She can admit to anyone that her life 'is a small, hesitant thing (p. 281).' But the advent of James opens it to more joy and more sorrow that she ever anticipated, and the wake of James leaves her to an amazement 'the way a child is amazed to discover, holding his thumb to his eye, that he can blot out a mountain (p. 282).' Thirty-five now, and still an innocent, our Ms. Cort.
Forgive me if I find the other characters a little less striking. Even adorably awkward James, memorable mostly for his height and very little else. He is very sweet though, and sensitive for a boy who has come to terms with his own freakishness and mortality at a young age; still, these traits alone do not win him places in the literary hall of unforgettable characters. I loved how Ms. McCracken imagined him up, though, placed him in the middle of a library so a spinster librarian would catalogue him into her life.
But maybe this is where the force of Ms. McCracken's writing comes from. She writes of ordinary people (yes, even in James the Giant's case), with everyday fears and hungers and manages to find the poetry of the mundane. True, readers who want epic romances or magical realism may not find that encouraging. But while The Giant's House might not be for everyone, I'd still highly recommend it. It is a carefully-paced and well-conceived look into an unconventional romance that isn't really as strange as it seems.