Author: Kristen den Hartog
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Growing up, and up.
In 1997 the reading world was introduced to Elizabeth McCracken’s novel The Giant’s House
, about an a woman’s romance with an eight foot man. Now we have the arrival of another book with a tall main character. Inspired by a 1970 photograph taken by Diane Arbus, Kristen den Hartog has written a Bildungsroman/fictional memoir about a girl who who towers over her friends and eventually stands at more than seven feet tall. Her name is Ruth. As a baby she called herself “roof,” appropriately enough.
Ruth is a first person omniscient narrator, who seems to know some of what she thinks and feels but who appears to know more about the details, backgrounds, and feelings of her family and friends, even before she was born. The plot is sparse. Basically, Ruth grows up experiencing what many experience, and I say this because her experiences don’t seem particularly unique even though her body is. Day to day events are chronicled. We watch her make a friend, go to school, consider the death of two aunts, and undertake an airplane ride. In this sense the book is similar to series books written in the early 1900‘s such as the Elizabeth Ann series by Josephine Lawrence from the twenties. In these series books and dime novels the sympathetic character was frequently put into precarious positions and the reader was kept on tenterhooks as the tension increased.
In The Girl Giant
, the reader’s interest is not held through exciting events, but by means of an identification with Ruth and the necessity to linger on everyday events. The writing is straightforward without literary flourishes, and as with a memoir, the character is presented as someone who seems to know they are being written about. Here is an example of what I mean. Ruth is visiting a friend and standing in a doorway surveying the room. She says, “I could see Patrick’s dirty feet on the coffee table. Then something tickled my legs, and I let out a little scream before realizing it was a cat coming in from outside. It wrapped around my ankles, rubbing and purring.” She does not just observe, she knows she is seeing. She doesn’t just feel, she knows she is feeling almost before she feels.
However, Ruth seems somewhat uninterested in telling us much about what it means and feels like to grow into a girl giant, thus her tallness comes off as somewhat incidental to the story. Perhaps my favorite line from the book is, “the downfall of imagination is that it always, always ends.” One of the great things about a great novel is an author’s broad, imaginative experiments. Hartog turns this sort of imagination way down in order to center upon the creation of an episodic reality. We are introduced to a few characters who engage with minor, but momentarily critical problems, much like characters do on weekly television dramas.
This again, I believe, probably is a result of Hartog’s previous focus upon the memoir -- events in life keep coming even though they may not be individually stunning. I also see this as one aspect of the contemporary popular novel where plot is diminished, workaday interactions of people are heightened, and the author refrains from offering any meta-narrative. As with any Bildungsroman, the goal is hard-earned maturity and the protagonist’s discovery of his or her personality. By the end of the book, Ruth achieves both. Yet, for me, The Girl Giant
is a novel that is not quite as large as its main character grows up to be.
Follow Here To Purchase The Girl Giant: A Novel