Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker

I have three words to say after reading Tiffany Baker's debut novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County: Read. This. Book.

I knew I was in for something good based on the reviews from other book bloggers, and indeed, I knew this had all the promise of a great, up-all-night read right from the first sentence:

The day I laid Robert Morgan to rest was remarkable for two reasons. First, even though it was August, the sky overhead was as rough and cold as a January lake; and second, it was the day I started to shrink.

I was immediately hooked and by the middle of the first chapter, knew this had the makings of a 5 star book. Baker, a master of the metaphor, continually leaves the reader breathless as she tells Truly's story in a style that keeps the reader engrossed (and yes, up until the wee hours reading).

From Publisher's Weekly: In an upstate New York backwater, Truly, massive from birth, has a bleak existence with her depressed father and her china-doll–like sister,Serena Jane. Truly grows at an astonishing rate—her girth the result of a pituitary gland problem—and after her father dies when Truly is 12, Truly is sloughed off to the Dyersons, a hapless farming family. Her outsize kindness surfaces as she befriends the Dyersons' outcast daughter, Amelia, and later leaves her beloved Dyerson farm to take care of Serena Jane's husband and son after Serena Jane leaves them. Haunting the margins of Truly's story is that of Tabitha Dyerson, a rumored witch whose secrets afford a breathtaking role reversal for Truly. It's got all the earmarks of a hit—infectious and lovable narrator, a dash of magic, an impressive sweep and a heartrending but not treacly family drama.

Writing from Truly's point of view, Baker accomplishes something very rare - she delves into every character's soul in this book, keeping with the magical realism aspects of the story.

If only he could prolong this moment, Bobbie thought, stretching the secret hours of night out long and thin enough that a few tendrils might remain with him in the day. So often, we believe we are alone in the privacy of our fantasies, but that is a delusion as well - and perhaps the most dangerous kind. For in letting ourselves forget about the common threads of our innermost wishes, we erode our foundations and lose the keystone of our souls.

And this passage, referring to another character.

I could see how important building a garden was to him, how maybe he actually wanted to put down some roots rather than just dig at them. I wondered if he ever got frustrated knowing all the fancy Latin names for the bushes around him, not to mention the complicated biology of photosynthesis, but in the end being just a kind of janitor for other people's yards.

Another example (I really can't help myself ... I just have to share this writing with you) of Baker's incredibly tight prose and melodious language is found in this description of the Morgan house:

At night, its blunt corners dulled by moonlight and shadows, the Morgan house let its ghosts out to roam. In the summer, racked by heat and insects, the interior walls of the house groaned like old dogs left to lie in the sun. And in winter, the radiators howled and clanged with the pent-up fury of banshees.

Just like the layers upon Truly Plaice's body, this book has layers upon thematic layers. One of the several themes throughout the novel is one's body and how it defines and defies our sense of self.

She may have had a whole lovely garden spread out at her feet, but in her heart, she still thought of herself as a weed - unlovely, uncultivated, unwelcome even in her own backyard. Everything in the world has its two faces, however. Weeds sometimes blossom into artful flowers. Beauty walks hands in hand with ugliness, sickness with health, and life tiptoes around in the horned shadow of death. The trick is to recognize which is which and to recognize what you're dealing with at the time. At any given moment, you can tip the balance just a little, one way or the other, if you're paying attention, but that afternoon I wasn't. I was too preoccupied with the hard stones rolling around inside my own heart.

Tell me that isn't incredible writing. This is an absolute literary masterpiece, an exquisite book. It's among the books that I will be recommending to people for quite some time, starting with you. The writing, the likeable and oh-not-so-likeable characters, the plot, the pace - everything works in this one and comes together so nicely. Rating: 5 stars, highly recommended. One of my all-time favorites.

If you've already read this, you might be interested in these links:

The Debutante Ball, a group blog for debut authors (of which Tiffany Baker is a participant)
Tiffany Baker's website

And a few other reviews (feel free to mention your link in the comments if I've unintentionally overlooked your review!)

Booking Mama

Books and Cooks

Books on the Brain

Caribous Mom

She Reads and Reads


Tara said...

I loved this too.

Melissa said...

Tara, how utterly embarrassing that I neglected to include your review. Not only did I read your review on your blog, but I commented on it, AND you commented back to me. So sorry for the oversight!

Tara said...

No problem at all! I'm just so glad you liked, no loved this book! I hope more people will read it. It's pretty special. Sorry about my blunt comment 'I loved this too.' I was pretty distracted yesterday!