The Giant's House

Nell Casey reviews Elizabeth McCracken's first novel "The Giant's House".

Published July 25, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Elizabeth McCracken's lovely, very eccentric first novel is a fairy tale of sorts -- one that relates the unlikely romance between Peggy Cort, a circumspect librarian, and James Carlson Sweatt, who at 8 feet 7 inches (and 415 pounds) is the tallest man in the world. McCracken, who is the author of the well-received short story collection, "Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry" (1993), and was recently selected as one of Granta's 20 "best young novelists," writes with a gentle, steady ease, and she unfurls this doomed love story with an enormous amount of flair.

The story begins in 1950, in a tiny Cape Cod town, when a then-11-year-old James walks up to Peggy's desk (she is 25) and requests books about magic. Over the creeping span of nine years, the two become deeply entangled in each other's lives; they guardedly develop a romance borne out of a shared tenderness and awkwardness. "The Giant's House" charts the slow boil of their love and James' hazardous growth through Peggy's affecting narration: "And though I loved him because of his body, it wasn't his body I loved. . . though I knew it, his body was still always unimaginable. Unimaginably that large, unimaginably refusing to stop, unimaginably killing him just with its growth."

This story's development is deliciously meticulous -- at least until the book's final sections, which are not only awkward (among other things, Peggy sleeps once with James' long-lost father) but feel hastily tacked on. McCracken's prose, however, has a smart, luminous quality that is never less than engaging. ("I wanted to ladle together my hands and dip them in him and cast from my nettled fingers a net of blood onto the floor to read, untangle what was wrong and fish it out, see, no wonder you felt so poorly, this was in your blood.") By the book's close, Peggy's isolation is made disturbingly accessible. "Every day my heart was broken newly, more efficiently," she laments. "The Giant's House" brings that heartbreak home.

By Nell Casey

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