The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

- by Tiffany Baker

Meet Truly Plaice - the ‘little giant’ of a backwater town in Aberdeen County. Born with a pituitary gland disorder, acromegaly, Truly grows exponentially as the months and years pass; a far cry from her sister Serena Jane’s delicate prettiness. "Growing up", quite rapidly in Truly's case, adds to her misery as she endures ridicule and misunderstanding at the hands of her peers and family members, and is treated as little more than a carnival sideshow by community members. Despite her illness, and the many heartaches she has to endure as a result of it, she gradually makes her mark on the little community, battling issues of morality, love and choice. Truly rises to the occasion with a height of character to match her dimensions.

While an interesting concept, Little Giant is one of those books that could leave a reader indifferent when the last page is turned. While selections near the beginning of the book hold interest and are quite well-written (apart from a few minor inconsistencies in the story), the cast and storyline gradually lose their luster after only one third of the way through, almost appearing as though the author’s interest in them wanes as the stagnant plot trudges its way to its somewhat unmoving conclusion. The characters, who held such promise at the outset, ultimately fall flat and fail to affect; not even the unlikely heroine, Truly, can salvage the story.

Readers may also be frustrated by Baker’s wording, which oftentimes tends to be overly protracted with many unnecessarily padded descriptions, which do nothing to advance the story or develop the characters.

While this book has many winning aspects to it, they simply are not capable of tipping the scales. Unfortunately, not a particularly satisfying read.

Little Dorrit

-by Charles Dickens

1820's rags-to-riches tale, Dickens style

Where most books develop one puzzle piece at a time, Dickens' novels are comprised of large pieces that are gradually deconstructed into tiny individual parts, scattered with wild abandon, and then slowly reconstructed methodically until the final puzzle is complete. Little Dorrit is no exception to this Dickensian template.

A sardonic social lampoon and a searing satire at bureaucracy’s expense, Little Dorrit serves as Dickens’ analysis of society at the time and yet still retains a quiet dignity and undercurrent of a more psychological application.

This Dickensian classic explores imprisonment of both the literal and symbolic genre. Broken into two separate books – “Poverty” and “Riches” – the novel explores life from two different sides of London’s dreaded Marshalsea debtor prison’s walls.

Upon Arthur Clennam’s return to England after several years abroad in China, he meets and develops a benevolent interest in Amy Dorrit, the quiet diminutive seamstress of his embittered mother. Born within the Marshalsea prison walls, “Little Dorrit” as she is affectionately dubbed, patiently cares for her aging father, William Dorrit - a gentleman of past grandeur, long incarcerated for a debt he cannot repay. As Clennam becomes further acquainted with the Dorrits, he realizes his own mother holds a long-held secret regarding the Clennam's connection with the Dorrit family. Arthur also recalls mysterious fragmentary utterances by his dying father, desperately begging him to ‘make things right’ with the Dorrit family, for reasons unspoken. In light of this, Clennam takes it upon himself to investigate further into the imprisoned family’s history. It’s not long before he discovers that the dark secrets of the past stretch far beyond the prison walls to affect the lives of many, including his own.

As with any Dickens’ novel, it wouldn’t seem complete without its typical array of capricious stereotypical characters, from the likes of the excitable snorting rent-collector Mr. Pancks; the cranky crooked manservant Mr. Flintwinch; to the taciturn Flora Finching; the bureaucratic Barnacles in the unscrupulous Circumlocution Office; and the blatantly villainous but charismatic Monsieur Rigaud (with no less than three French aliases), whose hooked nose ventures over his mustache every time he utters a sinister laugh – a frequent occurrence.

Still, Little Dorrit defies categorization. Simultaneously a tragedy, comedy, social commentary, satire and mystery, it is a puzzle that, when solved, resolves itself to be an allegory of love itself, and the emphasis of personal responsibility. The novel is also a testimony to that rarest strength of character which ultimately remains untainted by status and situation in life, whether it be riches or poverty. It is observable to anyone familiar with Dickens' biography that the book draws intimately on the author's own troubled childhood, when his own father was imprisoned for three months in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison.

Granted, without rapt concentration, readers will easily be lost in the exuberant sprawl of its 800+ pages, but will find that it is well worth the effort.

The House at Riverton

-by Kate Morton

a pleasant middling read, but nothing more

In the winter years of her life, 98-year-old Grace looks back on her past. Bound by society's early 20th century conventions as a misbegotten child, 14-year-old Grace was sent to be a servant in the 'big house' at Riverton. Fast-forward to the year 1999 - the production of a film is in progress regarding a tragic death that occurred at the house. The elderly Grace is asked to recollect any snippets of memories that would add to the film's authenticity and thus she begins to recount her memoirs of the event surrounding that time period. She also records more forthright details for her grandson; a final task she sets before herself, prior to her death.

Footslogging at a snail-pace at the outset, any impatience will be appeased when the slow-developing plot gradually quickens, culminating in a somewhat predictable and "tied up neatly with a bow" conclusion. Worthy of note is Morton's obvious research that went into the book and her uncanny ability to evoke the past. The candid glimpse into the sub-hierarchy goings on "below stairs" in the realm of servants, butlers and maids was nothing fresh, but certainly intriguing.

The characters in The House at Riverton failed to resonate, save the elderly narrator, Grace, who was particularly well developed. Grace, alone, had a richness, a realness, that you truly were drawn to - not merely as a geriatric caricature but as a living breathing person that you could almost touch. The ultimate "revelation" about Grace's origins wasn't a surprise. The drawn-out painstaking way this truth was realized by the lead character was irritating and detracted from the rest of the story.

A book like this would suit someone looking for a light, but entertaining, weekend read. Think Remains of the Day and Upstairs, Downstairs, sans remarkableness. Enjoyable, interesting, yet insubstantial - nothing that which would warrant a repeat perusal.