Giant of a story, beautifully written


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And Me Among Them

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2011 (4411 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

And Me Among Them

By Kristen den Hartog

Freehand Books, 207 pages, $22

Den Hartog aims high

This beautifully written novel, the fourth from Toronto author Kristen den Hartog, isn’t the first to tackle giants, and it surely won’t be the last.

From fairy tales to circus sideshows, there’s something captivating, magical, about the notion of being larger than life. For the novelist, there’s fertile ground in acromegaly — the growing pains, the giant heart — and also in the more prosaic side of bigness, shins splintered in falls, feet rubbed raw by shoes that can’t contain them.

Ruth is born at normal height to Elsbeth, a British war bride who lost her family in the Second World War, and James, a postman and former serviceman who met her overseas and brought her home to Canada.

It soon becomes clear that the girl is growing at an abnormal pace — a particularly cruel punishment for a child with so much empathy, to become so far removed, both literally and figuratively, from the things she longs to hold on to.

Her condition puts a strain on her parents’ marriage, although there are secrets they’re both keeping that also play their part.

Ruth’s gigantism seems to be a metaphor for things we keep hidden that grow so large that they prevent others from truly knowing us, but if that’s the case, it’s not a metaphor that’s adequately explored.

Den Hartog also uses Ruth’s height as a means to make her the observer — as from above, with a detached bird’s-eye view — of the past and present of her family, which is a clever way to tell the story.

But the semi-clumsy insertion of details about other real-life giants — even the Statue of Liberty — feels artificial, an excuse for the author to trot out research she’s done into the phenomenon. A fairy tale, The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, is retold; it’s a lovely tale, but how it relates to Ruth, who is all heart, is unclear.

These digressions are the main problem with And Me Among Them — they make it feel sketched-out, meandering as if the author is trying to do too many things.

But there are sections of the book that are breathtaking; minutely observed descriptions of classroom bullying, the casual cruelty and betrayal of little girls, parents torn between love and shame.

Den Hartogworks wonders with both the mundane and the extraordinary — we’ve read accounts of storming the beaches of France during the Second World War before, but the author’s recounting is vivid and freshly startling. She can move a reader to tears as well as to awe.

And Me Among Them doesn’t quite succeed on every level, but in a story about a very big girl, who can blame the author for aiming high?

Jill Wilson is a Free Press copy editor who thinks Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House should be required reading for anyone with an interest in acromegaly.


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Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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