Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: "Life Among Giants" by Bill Roorbach

They say the course of love never quite runs smoothly. For nearly seven-foot-tall David "Lizard" Hochmeyer, that couldn't be more true. A high school senior with a promising football career ahead of him, his life is thrown off course not only by his love for his neighbor, the famed ballerina Sylphide, but by his parents' mysterious murder, and his strange relationship with his mentally ill sister, Kate.

Lizard spends much of his adult life trying to figure out the truth behind his parents' murder, and the more he finds out, the more confused he becomes. He cannot shake his obsession with Sylphide, the widow of a famed rock singer, and he isn't sure how tied to those events Sylphide and her entourage really are. As she and his high school girlfriend, Emily, drift in and out of his life, he finds that love, truth, and clarity don't necessarily walk hand in hand.

Life Among Giants shifts between Lizard's memories leading up to and following the murder of his parents, and the present. Lizard leads an interesting and rich life, but he can never shake the feelings he had when he was younger, and that fact holds him back but allows him to grow at the same time. Bill Roorbach has created one of the most intriguing main character narrators I've come across in some time. Lizard is wise beyond his years and incredibly perceptive in one minute, and acts the way a typical 17-year-old would one minute later. I love the way he let the story unfold, and while I enjoyed many of the other characters, I found both Sylphide and Emily too much of an enigma to truly understand the way Lizard felt about both of them for the majority of his life. And while Kate's character was hard to pin down and empathize with, I realized after I was done with the book that this is probably the way people feel when dealing with a person suffering from mental illness.

This is a beautifully written, compelling book about love, family, the search for truth, being comfortable in your own skin, and trying to put your demons to rest. While I don't see the Holden Caulfield-esque characteristics some reviewers have identified in Lizard, he is a character worth meeting and spending time with.

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