Elizabeth McCracken is the recipient of the Harold Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the PEN/Winship Award. She has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, and Michener foundation, the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was also honored as one of Granta's 20 Best Writers Under 40.
A platonic, decorous and achingly poignant love affair between a young man who suffers from gigantism and a librarian who is 14 years his senior is the focus of this remarkable debut novel. McCracken is not merely a born raconteur; she is also an assured stylist and an astute student of human nature. Narrator Peggy Cort, spinster librarian in a small town on Cape Cod, first becomes aware of James Sweatt when he comes into the library with his grade-school class. At age 11, James is already 6'2" and destined to keep growing. Peggy finds herself drawn to the gentle, lonely young man, both because he fills a void in her own life and because she is in effect adopted by James's loving but eccentric family. The reader is mesmerized by this low-key narrative, first lured by Peggy's alternately acerbic and tender voice, then captivated by James's situation and intrigued by his family, later engulfed by pathos as James's body begins to fail and, finally, amazed by a turn of events that ends the novel with a major surprise. McCracken also invests the narrative with humor, sometimes through Peggy's astringent comments and more often through the use of minor characters who add vivid color and their own distinctive voices. One thinks of Anne Tyler's Illumination Night as the closest comparison to this brilliantly imagined chronicle of a peculiar, unique relationship. And like Tyler, McCracken (who also wrote the well-reviewed short-story collection Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry), shows herself a wise and compassionate reader of the human heart. BOMC selection. (July)
YA-As a librarian, Peggy Cort is fully able to provenance the quotation "Whoever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight." But she finds it impossible to establish why, at 26 years of age, she is so instantly obsessed by James Sweatt from his first appearance across her desk. He is 11 years old, overly tall, with a faraway look and unusual interests that bring him often into her Cape Cod reading room. This is an unusual story of fascination developing into an abiding, supportive devotion. James is far from average. By the age of 19 he is over 8 feet tall, the giant of the title. So unique is he in his physical form that he carries with him only a vague and disturbing medical prognosis. His adolescence in a 1950s small town is as gently average as his extraordinary physical demands can render it. Supported by the loving acceptance of family and community, James would yet have been isolated but for Peggy's singular recognition of him as her someone to cherish and nurture. With nothing of the freak about it, this is an involving and moving romance.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Library System, VA
The plot of McCracken's eloquent and hauntingly beautiful first novel is fairy-tale simple: A young librarian meets an overgrown boy who is destined to become the world's tallest man. She falls in love with him, though he is doomed to die young. The events of the novel span eight years beginning in 1950. McCracken convincingly portrays the period, deploying a few telling details‘the fold-down seat of a Nash Rambler, New York City's Automat, the snappy patter of journalists‘rather than reckless ornamentation. Narrator Peggy Cort is the library director of Brewsterville, a Massachusetts town "halfway up the spit curl of the Cape." James Carlson Sweatt is 11 and "tall even for a grown man." The title refers to the house that is built in James's backyard to accommodate his prodigious size. Peggy holds her love for James close to her heart, partly because of the scandal that might result but mostly out of fear that it would go unreciprocated. The theme of carrying a secret love is resolved ingeniously in a surprising and satisfying ending. This is a teriffic first novel, and McCracken is definitely a writer to watch. Highly recommended. [For more on this book see "Librarian Falls for Pituitary Giant," p. 165.‘Ed.]‘Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
"McCracken mixes the proper amount of lunacy with exactly the right amount of sorrow. The blend is reminiscent of such late-20th-century treasures as The Accidental Tourist, The World According to Garp, or A Confederacy of Dunces."--Denver Post
"Remarkable . . . McCracken has wit and subtlety to burn, as
well as an uncanny ability to tap into the sadness that runs
through the center of her characters' worlds. This book is so
lovely that, when you're reading, you'll want to sleep with it
under your pillow."--Salon
A true marvel . . . thoroughly enjoyable from its unlikely beginning to its bittersweet end. . . McCracken knows all kinds of subtle, enticing secrets of the heart and conveys them in silky, transparent language."--San Francisco Chronicle "Lovely . . . a tribute to the quiet passion of people trapped in isolation."--Los Angeles Times "Fascinating . . . The reader finds herself entangled, body and soul, in this tender and endlessly strange novel, which is in all senses a hymn to human growth gone haywire and to a love so big it can't hold its own magnificent limbs upright."--Elle "Such is the incantatory power of McCracken's eccentric tale that by its close we are completely in the grip of its strangely conceived ardor. . . . McCracken is as original a writer as they come. . . . I fell in love."--Daphne Merkin, The New Yorker
"McCracken is a true romantic, not the sloppy, gushy kind who lie to themselves, but the robust, ferocious romantic who sees reality with all its chinks, twitches, and zits, and finds it beautiful."--Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love
"Highly recommended . . . eloquent and hauntingly beautiful . . . This is a terrific novel, and McCracken is definitely a writer to watch."--Library Journal