The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker, is an interesting novel. I can’t quite remember why I picked it up at the bookstore, but once I had it, it languished, unread, on my bookshelf for about two years. I opened it once, but for some reason or other I never made it past the first page. My second stab at it was (obviously) more successful.
The novel opens at a funeral, narrated by the main character, Truly. Truly is a an immense woman, the titular giant of her county. The story then jumps back in time from the funeral scene to before Truly’s birth; the main narrative then traces her life from infancy through her troubled childhood through her even more troubled adulthood. Eventually, the storyline loops back to the same funeral, and then progresses on from there. Truly is the type of flawed heroine whose burdens and difficulties in life are painfully real, relatable even when her size and specific situations are not.
Truly is born big and continues to grow throughout her life. She towers over everyone else in Aberdeen, though she finds her place — after several tragedies — at a farm on the outskirts of town. Truly loves her makeshift family and her life on their farm, especially the work with her horses. However, her happiness is never complete, as her splintered family and dismal past never quite relinquish their grasp. The family secrets are dark and frigid, with far-reaching consequences. The tangled web of secrets and hidden agendas ensnares many characters, affecting them across the years in the narrative. Without giving away any spoilers, let me just say this: it’s hard to say who’s right or wrong in many of the situations, and Baker pushes the reader to consider the choices and how they might act in the same circumstances.
One of the few constants in the novel is the insidious and icy Robert Morgan. There are several Robert Morgans — a veritable lineage of them — but one in particular acts as the anchor that not only holds Truly in place, but very nearly drags her under. Truly makes a serious sacrifice for this awful man, who thanks her for her pains by tormenting her for years without mercy. His demeanor is hardly better toward his own son; the family dysfunction is the driving force of the latter part of the novel.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is a heavy read, but manages to tug your heartstrings and be dramatic without verging into hackneyed melodrama. Baker mostly avoids bogging her characters down with the many tragedies, large and small, that they face, focusing rather on the way they change the lives in the wake of the events. It’s remarkably fast-paced for a novel of its breadth, and kept my attention well (something family dramas have occasionally failed to do in the past). The three main characters are endearing in their own ways, while the villains are unrelenting in their machinations. Baker presents a small-town world of the past, self-contained and content to stay that way, even as she reminds the reader that the life in such a town was in no way as idyllic as we like to imagine.
I liked The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, but I don’t know that it’s a book I’ll reread in the future. The dramatic pull of the novel kept me engaged, and the conflicts still have me thinking and considering, but I don’t think it’s quite enough to merit a permanent spot on my bookshelf.
Happy reading, and Happy holidays!