The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

The Giants House

The Giant’s House

Elizabeth McCracken

“Peggy Cort is crazy, anyone will tell you so.  The only person who ever thought I wasn’t is dead; he is the subject of this memoir.”

Peggy Cort is a librarian in Brewsterville, an unremarkable little town in Cape Cod that has a few guest houses and a small stretch of beach.  But at one time, Brewsterville had James Carlson Sweatt.  Everyone knew him as “The Giant”.  It was the fall of 1950 when Peggy first met James.  He walked into her library looking for a book on magic.  At that time, he was 11-years old to her 25 and had already reached a height of six foot two.  Little did Peggy realize then how much that one ordinary moment would change her life forever.  How, as James Carlson Sweatt grew, so would her feelings for this humble, kind, and gentle giant.

The Giant’s House is Elizabeth McCracken’s first novel and it’s easy to see why it became a National Book Award finalist.  McCracken gives us an exceptionally well-written and heartbreakingly beautiful story of two souls who share a quiet and understated love.  James and Peggy form a mutually beneficial yet emotionally satisfying relationship based on their circumstances: he—by genetics—requires daily support and assistance while she—through vocation—is more than able to adequately provide both.  On the cover, The Giant’s House is rightly billed as a “romance” rather than a love story since the author mainly focuses on the growing relationship between James and Peggy.  It truly is an immersive story filled with compassion and tenderness.  I withheld a rating only because the ending didn’t seem to fully hit the mark.  McCracken’s story seemed to veer a bit off-course near the end and this shift was just enough to leave me a bit unsettled and unsatisfied.

When Peggy once used the word desiderata, James asked her its meaning to which she replied, “That word, it’s the best thing I learned in library school.  It means—well, it’s sort of like, what’s desired and required.”  “Desired and required?  Which?” James asked.  “Both.  Some things are both,” she said.  Dictionary.com gives an example of this word by providing “happily-ever-after”.  While The Giant’s House may have fallen short in providing readers with a traditional happily ever after, it does give us two characters who succeed in making each other happy until their own ever after arrives.  And that is enough to satisfy my own desideratum.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

 

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

Kate Alcott (Adult Fiction)

All Tess Collins dreams of is being a seamstress, but instead, deception places her in a hotel where she spends her days working as a servant.  The dockworkers say that there are jobs on that huge ship sailing to New York.  It is magnificent and truly worthy of its name…Titanic.  With an act of blind benevolence on the part of world-renowned designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, Tess’s future suddenly appears as bright and hopeful as Titanic’s maiden voyage.  Her romantic life also casts off when she meets two men vying for her attention: a mature Chicago millionaire and an amiable ship’s sailor.  But when disaster strikes and passengers fight for survival, circumstances force Tess to question her own choices and desires.

Many are familiar with Titanic’s plight through movies and history books, but few know the aftermath: the hearings, testimony, scandals, and anguish endured by the survivors who vacillate between feelings of euphoria and guilt.  Alcott masterfully combines actual people and Senate transcripts with fictional characters and dramatic situations to deliver a story both chilling and compelling.  Through it all, she gives us a main character who constantly struggles between being loyal to her mistress and being true to herself.

Alcott’s The Dressmaker reminds us that courage cannot be carried in a wallet and character cannot be poured from a bottle of champagne.  Instead, it is often the most humble and poor among us that are capable of the most extraordinary acts of heroism and kindness.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com