The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker. Published 2009 by Grand Central Publishing. Fiction.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is the story of Truly Plaice, an unusually large woman whose size seems to be the result of some genetic fluke; her sister, Serena Jane, is the picture of petite feminine beauty, and Truly spends just about her whole life in Serena Jane's shadow one way or another, until she discovers a long-forgotten family secret hidden right under her nose.
The story starts before Truly's birth- and the simultaneous death of her mother- with a mother, a father and pretty little girl living an ordinary life. Truly changes everything. Her mother dies; her father becomes taciturn; and Serena Jane tries to act as if Truly doesn't exist. Teased by classmates and teachers alike, Truly finds comfort in two friends- Amelia and Marcus, two misfits like Truly, who will remain with her for years to come. Serena Jane marries the town scion, Bob Bob Morgan, who is destined to be the town doctor like his forebears. But Bob Bob's family is destined to be unlike any Morgan family before.
And that's all I want to say about the plot. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is the debut novel by San Francisco-based writer Tiffany Baker, and it's pretty impressive. The writing is lyrical and literary; Truly speaks in a voice both dignified and beautiful, with a minimum of self-pity. Characters are developed skillfully and I came to like them all- Baker even manages to make the detestable Bob Bob not completely inhuman. I think Serena Jane, so cold towards her sister and her family, was the hardest to like. The resolution of her story was also the hardest to swallow for me. Her son Bobbie, another misfit, gives the story an additional twist or two and I'm glad Baker doesn't leave him the background.
The one thing that bothered me about the writing is that Baker has Truly tell the story in the first-person omniscient voice- a very unusual choice. What this means for the narrative is that Truly tells the reader things she can't possibly know, like events taking place far from her and the thoughts and feelings of other characters that they never share with her. Baker wants Truly to tell the story in her own beautiful voice, but she wants to express the inner lives of all of her characters as well. These goals are incompatible and the execution is choppy and distracting- not to mention confusing when the question of Serena Jane's fate comes up. From Bob Bob's thoughts, I knew how he plans to deceive the town (and Truly), and since it's Truly narrating his thoughts I had to keep reminding myself that Truly didn't know what I knew, even though she was the one telling me- otherwise, it wouldn't make sense later when Truly discovers Bob Bob's betrayal. This choice also means that what could have been the book's biggest surprise loses much of its punch.
I enjoyed The Little Giant a lot, although I felt like it loses some steam towards the end, when Truly ventures into Jack Kevorkian territory. I think the book is at its best in Truly's childhood, as we watch her navigate the cruelties she encounters, as well as the warm friendships of Amelia and Marcus. The romance with Marcus is a nice, humanizing touch and I'm glad Baker shows us that this woman Truly is worthy of love. I would have liked to see more of the love story and maybe less of some of the other stuff, but on balance The Little Giant is a satisfying read and a great choice for readers who enjoyed the likes of The Lace Reader and other such popular fiction with a twist or two. No big surprises here, but the little ones were enough for me.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.