“Life Among Giants,” by Bill Roorbach

Life Among Giants, by Bill Roorbach.

(As with so many of my reviews, this is available on Goodreads as well, but I wanted to share it here, too, because it’s a book worth sharing.)

Bill Roorbach is an artist of the human heart, but as a writer, he is pure craftsman. You can see the workmanship in his prose the way you can see it in good handcrafted furniture. Sure, there are moments in this novel where I caught myself thinking, “Oh, I see what you did there,” but I don’t think this is a bad thing: indeed, reading this novel is an education is crafting a story.

There are problems, I think. There are times when I felt like the novel was three or four different kinds of story all pieced together like inlay. Or, to abandon the carpentry metaphor for the cooking one Roorbach employs in the novel, there is a fascinating medley of literary flavors here — mystery, family drama, sports narrative, love story, Gatsby-esque literary fiction (the promotional material sells this last line a little harder than it might deserve, but it’s still an apt comparison given the fabulously wealthy and decadent setting at “the High Side,” Roobach’s version of Gatsby’s mansion) — but the flavors sometimes exist independently of each other, not quite blending into the perfect bite. “Oh, there’s the mystery,” you might catch yourself thinking in one chunk of text. “Oh, now I can taste the love story.”

Still, as a meal, the novel is immensely satisfying, and the characters at play here — from hyper-literate football hero Lizard (our narrator) to his obsessive bipolar sister to the mysterious and alluring dancer (Sylphide, what a name!) to the delightful if a bit caricatured butler Desmond to the con-man father…. The characters stay with you no matter what you might think of them, so alive they become.

The setting, too, is exquisite: whether you’re in the extravagant High Side or dense New York or sweaty, spicy Miami, the world this novel lives in is rich and alive, teeming with history and atmosphere.

Overall, Life Among Giants is a wonderful read, a perfect bridge between easy commercial fiction and quick, smart literature, and I will gladly recommend it to everyone I know.

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