Friday, June 04, 2010

Little, Big by John Crowley

The universe was telling to me read this book. It's been recommended to me so many times over the last few years by so many people whose opinions I respect that I just couldn't go another day without reading it, so I ran out and bought it.

That was over two months ago and I still haven't finished it. It's a strange book. I've never read John Crowley before and had no idea what to expect. For all the people who raved about the book, no one ever really talked about what it was about, or what happened, or maybe they did and it didn't stick in my mind, and when you read the back cover you're like okay, okay, okay, but then you're still not sure what kind of novel you're standing in line to buy. And that feeling has followed me through my reading experience. I'd be enjoying the book, but when people asked me about it, I found myself oddly tongue tied. It's about this guy, Smokey, who marries this girl Daily Alice who lives in a five-sided house, each side done in a different architectural style, and seemingly more vast on the inside than the outside, and somehow a portal into another world or dimension, for some characters. And the story is so big, like family saga big, because we keep getting stories of Daily Alice's ancestors and their encounters (or lack of encounters) with "them" the people in the other world, (who I thought of as elves), and the history of the house. It was really hard for me to get a hold on this story. I'd feel like I had a pretty strong handle on it, and I'd feel involved, until I stopped to think about it a little harder, and then it all would slip away and get foggy. It's like when you're figuring out a new piece of music and you just have to trust your fingers to know what to do and where to go and if you try too hard you'll lose it altogether.

Because of this quality, I'm reading this book very slowly. So slowly that I've finished eight other books since I've started it (Robert McCammon's Mr. Slaughter, John Hart's The Last Child, Ron Rash's One Foot in Eden, Michael Connolly's The Closers, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Dan Simmons' Hyperion, A. Lee Martinez's Gil's All Fright Diner, and Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). All of which are fabulous books that were page-turners for me and easy to understand. I was surprised when I was supposed to be surprised. With Little, Big I was more or less in a continual state of surprise or raised eyebrows. The characters never reacted like I expected them to. I couldn't adjust to their world. This led me to a philosophical question: was the author thwarting my expectations on purpose, or was I bringing my commercial expectations to a book where they just didn't apply?

The best way to describe my experience of this book is through movies. So many movies have the same narrative arc. The main character wants something. People tell them it's unattainable. Their family and friends are not supportive, or indifferent. The person does it anyhow, against enormous odds and multiple setbacks. Then you watch a movie like Once, which is about a Scottish musician working as a Hoover repairman. He wants to record an album. He doesn't have any money, but he teams up with a Czech pianist, and gets some guys off the street to play drums and backup and whatever. His dad, instead of being a nay saying asshole, is supportive. The studio guys are skeptical, but quickly won over by his talent. I kept waiting for the scene where they'd steal his album and screw him, but that didn't come. In the end, he made this beautiful album. Nothing really went wrong. I spent the whole movie full of anxiety, waiting for the axe that never fell.

Which is how I feel reading Little, Big. Is it just me, or does the author keep setting me up for something bad to happen when nothing bad does? Smokey has to jump through all these hoops to marry Daily Alice and I'm thinking, this whole book is going to be about him trying to marry her and things are going to keep going wrong and they'll never get to spend their lives together... but they actually get married pretty quickly and have four kids. Then Smokey sleeps with Daily Alice's sister and I'm thinking okay, the shit's gonna really hit the fan now, but Daily Alice is fine with it and the situation is diffused. I guess all these characters just have bigger things to worry about, like those elves that never get explained.

People who have read Little, Big: I need your encouragement. I'm half way through, and while the writing is incredible, I'm losing steam. Should I finish this thing?

20 comments:

Nicole MacDonald said...

..I can see why you need encouragement..

Anonymous said...

Little Big isn't a movie script. This book is a meander about magic. Fairy magic. If you want to understand it better, you should read more fairy tales. You might also read a bit about fairy lore (including Shakespeare). You'll find that people who have had encounters with fairies often have experiences similar to yours in reading this book, for example, their sense of time stretches and shrinks, or while they have the sense of doing hundreds of things (especially going to fairy parties) they can remember none of it.

If you absolutely want to watch a movie to understand it, then I suggest City of Lost Children.
Best wishes, Cathy Camper

Magdalena Munro said...

I felt this way reading Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. I was "supposed" to love it because it was Doris Lessing and I'm a woman. I regret to say that I forced myself to finish this book, thinking that it MUST at some point win me over. It never happened. My advice is to shelf the book. Life's too short to feel burdened into finishing a book that isn't capturing your heart and mind.

Marguerite Butler said...

This was a DNF for me. I wish I could give more encouragement, but this is what I find wrong with so many literary novels today. The writing is magnicifcent, but if I have to work that hard to care, I just won't. I'll put it down and read something comercial. The best novels have both writing and something to hook you. This one never hooked me.

John Chopourian said...

It was a difficult book for me to get through. It took me about 3 months as well. Please finish it. If you are as well-read as you sound you will find the ending to be meaningful. I would also suggest reading through this thread when you are finished:
http://www.avclub.com/articles/little-big-zack-handlens-comments,32044/

Good luck!

Jodi Henry said...

Hi there,

I am hosting a query letter blogfest from December 12-18th.

The gist of the fest: each entrant posts a query letter on their blog and everyone else critiques them.

I thought it would be great if I could get some agents interested in the event. Whether to just sweep thorugh and take a look for something that hasn't come across their desk/email yet or to make comments would be great.

If you care to view the announcment and participents list the link is provided below.

Thank you and have a great day.

http://jodilhenry.blogspot.com/p/query-letter-blogfest-page.html

Jodi Henry
Turning the Page

Anonymous said...

Just today I have decided that I am going to give up on this book. Life is too short to finish reading something one is not enjoying. This book is literary for the sake of being literary.

Anyone here read Cloud Atlas? I read that book last year, and at the end I had an appreciation of what the author was trying to achieve. But ultimately, I just wanted the hours of my life back that I had spent reading it.

So I'm giving up on this book, and do not feel at all guilty about it. If you are looking for good fairy books read "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and "Lud-in-the-mist".

Anonymous said...

I just bought this book for the same reasons you mention, and with the same lack of information regarding what it is about. Life is short, as many others say here, but I think the other way around. That is, life is too short to miss a great work of art if given the chance to experience it. I'm glad that others have posted and appreciate what they have posted here, I'm glad that I happened to click onto this blog today, for reasons completely unrelated to this book. I'm looking forward to starting and finishing Little, Big.

Thomas said...

I found a second-hand copy at a used bookstore and bought it because I rememebred the name of the author, or seemed to. Thanks much for this blog; at first glance I too was confused and closed the book on the second page. I'll finish it now however!

Anonymous said...

I recommend staying with it. The first time I read it (I've read it3 or 4 times in the last 20 years) I had a tough time with the first quarter of it, but it does start pulling you in. There are some lush poetic passages to come, and several highly unnerving parts.

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

When I was teaching kids who struggled with reading, I learned that I needed to teach them a new rule. That rule is this; There's no rule that if you start a book, you have to finish it. I think it's hard for a reader to follow. But that was good advice for me too!

Luisa Perkins said...

It's one of my favorite books, but I totally get what you're saying. Keep going! It stayed with me long after I finished it the first time, and I've liked it even more when I've re-read it.

Angelina said...

I have not read this book and the comparison to "Once" convinces me I wouldn't like it. I'm happy to hear someone else express my feelings about that movie. I did love the music, however, and was glad to be introduced to it.

Angelina
http://betterthanbullets.com

Wilde Hilde said...

It's my very favorite book, when I found it it was like a homecoming I found my book, and in it a story that wove all the nature magic of the city to it's magical relations in the country. Karmic paths, fairie realms, destiny, the humor of names and places, quirky family's, dark secrets invention, design, soap operas, heavy hash use, architectural genius, nature fairies and magic are everywhere.

jeff ingram said...

I, too, remember feeling a bit dazed and confused as I read this book. One thing, however, has always stayed with me. In referring to the house, one of the characters says: "The deeper in you go, the bigger it gets."
Like life, that house is greater than the sum of its parts. It contains multitudes.
As for finishing? Life is too short to finish a book you're not enjoying. If it's not a reading assignment for a college credit course, (which, obviously, it isn't) I'd say move on.

Jo Ellem said...

I picked up my copy for a couple of bucks in a remainder store. And when I did get around to reading it, I could not put Little Big down.

Everything about our lives is pre-packaged and quick. We live in a fast paced, fast moving, trauma filled environment where violence is normal.

We have no beauty in our lives, no songs, no tales or myths. We have successfully done away with it all. And I believe we are so much poorer for it.

Little Big is a Fairy Story. If someone wants to read Andy McNabb or Dan Brown, then this isn't the book for them. If someone likes their fiction "easy to read" and wants a book that can be read in small grabs or be finished in an hour, this isn't the book for them either.

This is a book to get lost in, but the reader has to be willing to turn of the world and go for the walk.

Please stick with Little Big, it's not just about "This guy Smokey". The story is wonderful, it made me catch my breath. And I did cry about half way through because Crowley captured a feeling of despair and loneliness and longing that I could almost feel.

The ending is worth reading too. Please don't expect a movie, there has to be more to life than a pre determined beginning, middle and end. In my experience real life never takes the turns we expect, why should a book?

Life can be so much stranger and wonderful, and this book ... well ... I loved it. It's an excuse to be quiet, savour and imagine.

Heather Marsten said...

I am going to start reading this based on what you have said so far. Glad to see someone else also reads many books simultaneously.

Pat Powers said...

I consider Little, Big one of the greatest books I have ever read. If you don't like it, don't finish it, it's your life and your time you are spending. But man, I feel for you. You are missing out on something that is literally wonderful.

Unknown said...

Not to be nit picky, but Glen Hansard is Irish. The broadway version of their life is worth watching too, if you can brave Times Square.

sf said...

Whoever compared Little, Big to Once is nuts. No comparison - no similarity. I could not stand Once; Little, Big is in my top 5 books of all time...