Life Among Giants


Bill Roorbach




Date Reviewed:

July 12, 2014

had never heard of this book before I saw sitting on the shelves at our library. But the blurbs sounded fantastic: "Hilarious and heartbreaking." "A dizzy romp. An enchanting, darkly mysterious ballerina. A dead rock star. An unsolved double homicide. A father felled by a shadowy past. Secret passageways, nighttime trysts, affairs, embezzling, illicit recordings"."Life Among Giants, which is earning comparisons to The World According to Garp, is a vivid chronicle of a life lived large." Intrigued by all that? I was. I really enjoyed The World According to Garp, which I consider a classic.

The first third or so of this novel lives up to the hype. We are introduced to the Hochmeyer's. The father is an investment banker, but he appears to be involved in some desperate, shady schemes. The mother is an ex-tennis star, the daughter of a wealthy family who married below her station. The daughter is Kate, who is mentally unstable, apparently she is manic-depressive. The son is David "Lizard" Hochmeyer, who is a high school teenager when the novel begins. David is 6'8" and is the star quarterback on his high school football team. David narrates the story and it begins with a bombshell - David's parents are gunned down after lunch, with the killer unable to shoot David too simply because he ran out of bullets. We are soon introduced to the mysteries of the Hochmeyer family (what was his father up to?). Plus, we learn of the eccentric inhabitants of the High Side - a luxurious mansion on the other side of a small lake. The owner of the High Side is a world famous ballerina, Sylphide, who once was married to Dabney, an even more famous rock star. But Dabney died under mysterious circumstances (another mystery).

After all that initial setup of the characters and the mysteries in their lives, the book takes a long and dull tangent for 20 years as David describes his life. Unfortunately, despite the fact that David plays for the Super Bowl Champion Dolphins as a backup quarterback, there is very little football stories here. Instead, there is a lot of material about food and operating restaurants. I am not a "foodie", and I found the long descriptions of perfectly prepared dishes to be simply tedious. The exquisite mushroom sauce? Not interested. David hires some eccentric cooks, but frankly these long chapters bored me. I put the book aside several times and read other material.

Eventually, the gunman who shot David's parents shows up at his restaurant one evening for a nice dinner (coincidence??), and suddenly the story comes alive again. There some suspense and events of actual interest. The last quarter of the novel is a great read, and thus I bumped up my rating to four stars. I do wish there had been more explanation as to the schemes of David's father. I also found the "explanation" of Dabney's death to be completely implausible.

Who beat up Mark Nussbaum and why?

Be warned that this book is not another The World According to Garp. It is not humorous at all. Frankly, I am baffled by those reviews that call this book hilarious - I didn't notice any sections that even tried to be funny. Unlike the Garp book, too many of the characters in Life Among Giants are unlikeable. I realized that I didn't like any of the female characters. Kate, with her crazy theories and outlandish behavior never succeeded winning any affection from me, I just found her annoying. Emily Bright, the pseudo-girlfriend who treats David so awfully? I completely hated her - why doesn't David realize how badly he is being treated? Sylphide the ballerina - I found her to be aggravating in the extreme. I believe Sylphide is meant to be sexy and desirable, but there is nothing alluring about her, and much that is irritating. I didn't like her at all. I kept wondering why David - tall, wealthy, famous - never attracts any women who actually like him? Especially when David grows and matures, he ought to recognize that Emily and Sylphide would best be left in the rear view mirror.

Overall, this is an interesting book, I am not sorry I spent the time to finish it. But it doesn't merit the praise heaped upon it, and I doubt I will read anything else written by this author.