Apathy Among Depressives
Author: Bill Roorbach
I firmly believe that a good dysfunctional family can be an asset to any story. It doesn’t matter the genre – horror, chick lit, cozy mystery – nutcase families with deep, nasty secrets can spice up anything. It even makes parts of Life Among Giants compelling, so clearly it can work miracles.
Life Among Giants is author Bill Roorbach’s tale of giants both literal and figurative. Main character Lizard Hochmeyer (given name David) is a literal giant – we don’t know quite how big, but even as a teenager he is a very, very tall boy. Lizard lives with his parents in a modest but comfortable house across the pond from an estate called the High Side owned by figurative giants rock star Dabney Stryker-Stewart and prima ballerina Sylphide (no last name necessary). The book is the story of Lizard’s life. Sort of.
I have no real love of non-linear plot gimmickry unless it serves and actual function within the story. Here it does not. We don’t start at the beginning of David’s story. We don’t even start at the point where we enter David’s story. We start somewhere in the halfass middle of nowhere and weave back around to the beginning and through the end, back towards the middle and…I don’t even know how many times we jump. Too many.
Anyway. We learn early on that David’s parents don’t last long, that his sister Kate is away at college, that there is, and has been for years before even the earliest narrative here, a very complicated relationship between various Hochmeyer family members and various High Side dwellers and that life is a twisted kind of combination of easy and depressing for young Mr. Hochmeyer. The entire book skips around, back and forth, putting pieces of the story together, creating mysteries, asking questions, dropping clues and eventually winding itself like a corkscrew into the ground with its own pretentious apathy.
My main issue with Life Among Giants is that the entire narrative feels like a book on tape being read by a someone with clinical depression. It’s flat and tired and lifeless. Even as David tells us about his sexual adventures or his tragedies and triumphs it all feels like no one really cares about anything. That sort of practiced, affected disdain for emotional investment or engagement by or with the characters strikes me as pompous and snobbish. As if the worthy reader will by nature invest his own emotional effort into the book, proving that he is able to appreciate the lofty commentary about life that the author is too literary to spell out for the unwashed masses.
There are some things about Life Among Giants that I really enjoyed. Some of the peripheral characters, including the sister’s much older boyfriend and two business partners of the adult David, are particularly well written and nicely human compared to the rest of the stick figure characters. Roorbach has a nice big vocabulary and isn’t afraid to use it, something I also appreciate. Unfortunately he uses it to distance, rather than draw in, his reader, the same way he uses time hopping and affectless narrative about even the most shocking, exciting or interesting aspects of David’s life story.
I finished this book hoping, every page, that it would get better. It doesn’t. It starts empty and stays empty, page after page of emotionless, vague, depressed storytelling that does nothing to endear even the most upstanding of characters to the reader. The truth is that I would love to read David Hochmeyer’s story. I just want someone else to tell it. 1 ½ stars out of 5, no recommendation.
– S. Millinocket