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[165] The Little Giant of Aberdeen County – Tiffany Baker

Advanced Reader’s Copy
Publication: January 8, 2009
Hachette Book Group USA

“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.” [269]

There is no character more stigmatized than Truly Plaise. She’s all bumps and bulges, even when her mother conceives her in the womb. Lily Plaise’s knees buckle under the monstrous belly and mutinous breasts. Born bigger than life, against the heavy odd that it will be a boy, pressing fatally the frontiers of her mother’s body like a balloon, her father blames her for her mother’s death in childbirth. Truly’s heavy and round physiognomy consigns her to among the cooties: the abnormal, the unfit, and the ugly. She’s the miserable anithesis to her sister two years of her senior, who is an “epitome of feminist perfection.”

When Mr. Plaise dies, the reverend’s wife, who believes Truly is the making of Satan, adopts her sister and leaves her to the mercy of the Dyersons in the farm. While Truly’s epic proportions make her subject of constant curiosity and humiliation, Serena Jane’s beauty proves to be her biggest blessing and the worst curse, for it targets her as the obsession of Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in the Morgan lineage, Aberdeen’s family doctors for generations. In spite of Bob Bob’s years of scrutiny of Serena Jane, they are no more than physical lumps that co-exist in the same house, for they know little to nothing about each other.

Part II sees the change of wind in the novel as Truly moves into the Bob Bob’s house to take care her nephew after her sister leaves for good. It’s not until long she perceives her brother-in-law’s ulterior motive for wanting her in the house: his hungry, morbid fascination with her physical anomalies. She’s no more than a subject to him. Sealed into the new domestic arrangement are betrayals and lies that are not only too big to whittle down but also are stories where once you know the truth, you regret knowing.

“If a secret has an answer, it’ll out on its own if it’s meant to, and if it doesn’t, then maybe providence has a better reason for keeping it hidden.” [312]

Truly’s coincidental (and timely) discovery of a family secret, some apothecary recipes penned by the witch-wife of the first Morgan, might be the key to survive Bob Bob’s cruelties. But this revelation also confronts the ethical and moral decisions between life and death, for she is in possession of a power that, in evil hands, could subvert nature’s pace.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County muses on the invincibility of death to which all human beings have to succumb regardless of their status. Written in a voice that demarcates the boundary between fairy tale and reality, it redefines mercy, and ponders at the truth that love cannot be ordered to outward appearance and first impression. Isolation is also a key theme. Habitual bitterness reaps emptiness into everyone’s life in the book. Bob Bob sulks, Serena Jane flees for freedom, Priscilla Sparrow (school-teacher) dies alone, Bobbie (doctor’s gay son) hates his father, Marcus (the veteran) loses the familiar language of his senses. Truly lets her diagnosis isolate her from her best friends. These characters are like lonely archipelagos, rendered completely helpless in their secrets. As befit to the metaphors that are redolent throughout the book, they are all choked by their weeds in life.

Reading Salon: Booker Shortlist and Little Giant

The Sunday Salon.com

I have finished the review of The White Tiger but I have set my heart to read all five other books short-listed for this year’s Booker Prize to see how it measures up to the contenders.

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic) Winner
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

I have enjoyed The Glass Palace and In an Antique Land so I will begin with Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppins. At the bookstore I purchased a copy of The Secret Scripture, which will be my last book for the Man Booker Reading Challenge. Meanwhile a stream of ARCs will be feeding my bookish appetite. Right off the bat is a novel that features local San Francisco author publicity. The debut novel will be published on Januray 8, 2009.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker is your typical Ugly Betty type of story, but with more consequence. When Truly Plaice’s mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity. Truly Plaise is born a giant. She is all about bumps and bulges, Her father blames her for her mother’s death in childbirth. The preacher’s wife believes she has got the making of Satan in her. The school teacher calls her a little giant. Her education is stalled before it even starts. While her remarkable size makes her the target of constant humiliation and curiosity, her sister Serena Jane is an epitome of feminine perfection. The book does not read like chick lit although the major characters are girls. Forty pages into this novel set in 1950s New England, I’m already in the thrall of this unique book endowed with a mesmerizing folkloric feel. Tiffany Baker’s writing is very lyrical.

By the way, I finally become a member of Goodreads! I have to search for my friends who are on it. Are you on Goodreads? Let’s take a head count.