Elizabeth McCracken

The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken is the story of Peggy Cort’s obsession—some might call it love—with James Sweatt, a young boy whose pituitary gland is out of sync, causing him to grow unnaturally until he is over 8 feet tall.

It is the 1950s and Peggy, a very lonely twenty-six-year old librarian with no social life, focuses her attention on maintaining a clean, orderly, and organized library. Every aspect of her life has to be tidy and in its proper place. Her social interactions are limited to assisting patrons of the library. Peggy’s very regulated, orderly life comes to a screeching halt when the overly tall eleven-year-old James Sweatt enters the library with a request for books. Peggy’s world is turned upside down. She becomes obsessed with James, hanging on every word and every movement of this tall, awkward boy.

As the years progress and James gets taller and taller, Peggy’s obsession escalates. She befriends James’ family to get closer to James, eventually becoming his primary caretaker after his mother’s death. She realizes she has fallen in love with James and harbors romantic notions of their lives together.

When James dies at the age of 18, Peggy’s obsession assumes morbid overtones. She has a one-night stand with James’ father to get closer to James and then lies to herself and all in sundry that her ensuing pregnancy is a result of her intimate relations with James.

The story is told in Peggy’s first-person point of view, which is an unfortunate choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Peggy engages in interminably long internal monologues in which she constantly berates herself, convinced she is unworthy of being loved. And secondly, her penchant for organizing and cataloguing is taken to an extreme when it comes to her obsession with James. She focuses on every minute detail of his person and analyzes every interaction she has with him, ad nauseam. It becomes tedious and exasperating to read this page after page after page.

Elizabeth McCracken shows great potential as a writer. She knows how to dance with words, conjure up descriptive detail, and write sentences that sparkle. Unfortunately, her choice to tell the story from Peggy’s point of view forces her to focus exclusively on the narrator’s internal machinations and all-consuming passion for James—a focus that quickly becomes old and slows the narrative to a snail’s pace.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review