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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Little, Big

Little, Big - John Crowley

Original, Trite.

Epic, Weak.

Boring, Lively.

Rambling, Unspoken.

Significant, Inconsequential.

Simple, Overwrought.

Compact, Frazzled.

Vivid, Tasteless.

Vague, Determined.

Wonderful, Blah.

Little, Big.

 

A two-word summary of Little, Big is in the title: a book of opposites. My review could be summed up in those words too, but I'll expound a little.

 

I've been looking forward to reading this novel for nearly a decade. I'd read some wonderful reviews, loved the cover, and eagerly anticipated a well-written epic family saga. I thought this would be the novel that would lighten my heart toward the Fantasy genre, a genre often plagued with plot-heavy tales of yawn. You can argue that it was my hopes for this novel, my unattainable expectations, that kept me from embracing it, but truth is that Little, Big wasn't what it promised to be. The plot was epic, but it was also fragmented into insignificant episodes. The book was original and magical, but within the constraints of what readers have come to expect. The multi-generational family tree was gorgeous and intriguing, but the characters were so paper thin my memory of them blew away with each turn of the page. And character actions and decisions—none of it made sense to me. It felt as though Crowley relied so much on the fantasical elements of the novel—look, a talking animal; over there, is that a fairy; behold, an exploding baby—that he hoped the reader would be distracted from characters and a plot that made sense.

 

In the end, Little, Big was everything and it was nothing. Some of the best scenes were written so well that it's difficult to say this book failed, but as a whole it did fail to reach me. My favorite moment, surprisingly, was the Christmas scene. Cliché, perhaps, but Santa felt more real to me than the fairies or any of the other characters ever did. I'd love to read a book about that Santa. Only at that moment did I really feel I was beginning to understand the Drinkwater clan; their letters and traditions were fantastic; then it slipped away, and I slogged through another four-hundred pages where the littlest, most inconsequential things were made big, and everything that mattered was made little.