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The Little Giant of Aberdeen Countyby Tiffany Baker
In Tiffany Baker's debut novel we meet the kind-hearted Truly Plaice. Massive from birth, growing into a 400-pound giant, Truly strives to be normal in a world in which she literally and figuratively does not fit. Truly's strength of virtue comes out when she steps into the role of surrogate mother to her estranged sister's young son. She endures daily verbal abuse from her egotistical brother-in-law, the town's only doctor, in order to provide a loving home environment to her growing nephew. In the doctor's home she uncovers a quilt that contains the key to the folklore rumors that have rested with the townsfolk in her rural upstate New York community. The knowledge the quilt contains gives Truly the power of life and death and leads her to discover her own inner strength and dignity. Baker's descriptive writing flows naturally through this complex story that does not disappoint.
Synopses & Reviews
When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how record-breakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother's death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated — Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.
Serena Jane's beauty proves to be her greatest blessing and her biggest curse, for it makes her the obsession of classmate Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations. Though they have long been the pillars of the community, the earliest Robert Morgan married the town witch, Tabitha Dyerson, and the location of her fabled shadow book — containing mysterious secrets for healing and darker powers — has been the subject of town gossip ever since. Bob Bob Morgan, one of Truly's biggest tormentors, does the unthinkable to claim the prize of Serena Jane, and changes the destiny of all Aberdeen from there on.
When Serena Jane flees town and a loveless marriage to Bob Bob, it is Truly who must become the woman of a house that she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew Bobbie. Truly's brother-in-law is relentless and brutal; he criticizes her physique and the limitations of her health as a result, and degrades her more than any one human could bear. It is only when Truly finds her calling — the ability to heal illness with herbs and naturopathic techniques — hidden within the folds of Robert Morgan's family quilt, that she begins to regain control over her life and herself. Unearthed family secrets, however, will lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually break the Morgan family apart forever, but Truly's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County, and the possibility of love in unexpected places.
"Baker's bangup debut mixes the exuberant eccentricities of John Irving's Garp, Anne Tyler's relationship savvy and the plangent voice of Margaret Atwood. In an upstate New York backwater, Truly, massive from birth, has a bleak existence with her depressed father and her china-doll — like sister, Serena Jane. Truly grows at an astonishing rate — her girth the result of a pituitary gland problem — and after her father dies when Truly is 12, Truly is sloughed off to the Dyersons, a hapless farming family. Her outsize kindness surfaces as she befriends the Dyersons' outcast daughter, Amelia, and later leaves her beloved Dyerson farm to take care of Serena Jane's husband and son after Serena Jane leaves them. Haunting the margins of Truly's story is that of Tabitha Dyerson, a rumored witch whose secrets afford a breathtaking role reversal for Truly. It's got all the earmarks of a hit — infectious and lovable narrator, a dash of magic, an impressive sweep and a heartrending but not treacly family drama. It'll be a shame if this doesn't race up the bestseller lists." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this month's issue of her magazine, Oprah directs our attention once more to a perennially fascinating subject: her weight. "How Did I Let This Happen Again?" the talk-show diva cries as she soars past 200 pounds and 1.4 million subscribers. She may not know a good diet, but she certainly knows the recipe for success, and it's one cleverly borrowed by Tiffany Baker in her first novel, "The Little... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Giant of Aberdeen County," which throws in quilting and witchcraft for extra O-ppeal. Baker's gargantuan narrator weighs in somewhere north of 400 pounds, but you'll be panting to keep up with her through this gothic tale of murder, revenge and redemption. Truly Placie begins her story at the end, at the gravesite of her nemesis: "Technically speaking," she says, "I guess you could say I killed Robert Morgan, but I did it only because he insisted." How this elephantine woman triumphed over the town's most powerful man is the secret that "The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" reveals, one surprising chapter at a time. Of course, Baker plays upon our morbid fascination with Truly's bizarre appearance. She suffers from a syndrome called acromegaly, in which the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone. Owing to her father's anger at the town doctor, she never receives treatment for this condition, and so she grows and grows. At 1-and-a-half she's already wearing her father's shirts. Later, she needs special clothes — sewn together dresses, even sheets — to cover her "circus-like proportions." (She's a "disaster in plaid.") The teacher at her one-room school declares her "a little giant," and the other students are even worse: "Hey, Truly," one taunts, "come sit on this here rock. You'll crush it, and we'll have us some marbles." She's stoic in the face of these insults, but such ridicule and the accompanying loneliness take a toll: "All that fat and muscle hanging off my frame," she says, "was like a suit of armor laid overtop my spirit. And so far, I'd taken all the misery thrown at me and absorbed it like salt sucking up water." Truly's pathetic adolescence — including the early death of her parents, and a cruel new guardian — is all rather standard melodrama, but the real focus of the novel's first half is her pretty sister, Serena Jane. "The two of us were as opposite as sewage and spring water," Truly says. She understands the paradoxical role she plays in supporting Serena Jane's striking appearance: "Pretty can't exist without ugly ... I made my sister beautiful without her even trying." That relationship between the unusually beautiful and the unusually ugly becomes a major theme, as both Serena and her sister find their lives determined by their bodies, but not in the way one might expect. Beauty becomes a kind of prison for Serena, while Truly's grotesque form turns her invisible and allows her "to slip through cracks no one in Aberdeen would ever think possible." When you're contemplating murder, that's a handy quality to have. A gothic novel needs a good villain, and Baker supplies one in the form of Robert Morgan, the latest in a series of Morgans who have served as Aberbeen's doctors. "His eyes were shining yellow," Truly tells us, and "his teeth and chin looked particularly pointy, giving him the semblance of a hairless wolf." He pursues Truly's beautiful sister with canine aggression, but, in a horrible twist, his rapacious desire leads him into a strained relationship with Truly, whose ghastly appearance makes her the last person he would ever want. During the Civil War, the first Robert Morgan married the town's healer. Rumor has it that she was a witch and that she hid her spell book before she died, but no one has been able to find it, and the Morgan doctors — all strict men of science — insist the whole story is poppycock. Can Truly discover the truth of Tabitha's power in time to defend herself against Dr. Morgan's macabre interest? There's a creepy touch of menace here that Nathaniel Hawthorne would have appreciated. "The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" reaches for more complex issues such as euthanasia and sexual orientation, but those themes don't develop much depth. It hardly matters; Baker knows how to spin an alluring plot, and she tells this emotional story in a lush voice that's spiked with just a taste of self-pity. She has a good sense of the dark comedy of melodrama, too, even if Truly's words of wisdom are sometimes a little too — forgive me — heavy-handed: "My body," Truly tells us, "sponged up the world's pain like bread in the bottom of a gravy tray." Yes, that's bad, but it's deliciously bad, like a large bag of gothic potato chips, and once you start, you just can't stop. If Truly sometimes shatters the illusion of her story by telling us information that she couldn't possibly know — people's secret actions, even their thoughts and dreams — well, we're willing to let it go. Baker's plus-sized narrator has won us over, and we're rooting her on in a battle against Dr. Morgan and her ever-growing body. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The Little Giant of Aberdeen County grabs you from its astonishing beginning to its riveting conclusion. Its charms are multitude — a wholly unique love story, a devastating friendship, a bewitching multi-generational history, all brought to an apex in the larger-than-life personage of Truly, a heroine simultaneously infused with a quiet and dignified grace and peculiar sense of purpose. This dark-yet-rollicking debut is a must-read." Sara Gruen
"A beautiful, startling and wholly original novel, LGOAC is infused with magic, lush language, and surprises on every page. Tiffany Baker has given us a flawed, prickly, enchanting heroine in Truly — part Cinderella, part Witch, part Behemoth. In their timeless story of small town life, the boundary between reality and fairy tale does not exist, and happy endings are possible but hard-won. This book is a treasure." Stephanie Kallos
"[An] unforgettable heroine with a story that begs to be read and read again. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[I]nfused with moments of magic realism....[T]he novel charms and will find a devoted audience." Boolist
"[T]he kind of book you find yourself stealing time from workday chores to read." USA Today
"One of the beauties of Little Giant is that Baker never reveals how big Truly really is — her weight and height are not given. So Truly shrinks and grows in the reader's imagination, like a genie in a fairy story." Chicago Sun-Times
"Baker has crafted a book big enough to hold her title character, and few readers would be churlish enough to begrudge Truly a happily-ever-after." Christian Science Monitor
"Baker enters Alice Hoffman territory in this parable about beauty and ugliness, meanness and mercy and magic, and does it with considerable dark humor." Hartford Courant
"[This] captivating debut has all the hallmarks of the Southern Gothic." Charlotte Observer
"You'll never look at a larger-than-normal person the same way after getting to know Truly." Dallas Morning News
In this family saga, unearthed secrets lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually breaks the Morgan family apart forever. However, one woman's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County, and the possibility of love in unexpected places.
About the Author
Tiffany Baker is the author of The Gilly Salt Sisters and The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, which was a New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. She holds an MFA (creative writing) and a PhD (Victorian Literature) from UC Irvine, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children.
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