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Showing 1-10 of 142 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 174 reviews
on December 7, 2012
If you are looking for a mystery 'page turner', I would definitely NOT recommend this book. If, however, you are looking for a really really well written book that happens to have a good mystery in the background, then you should purchase this book immediately. In my mind, the writing (and to a degree the book itself) is very reminiscent of early John Irving -- World According to Garp/Hotel New Hampshire. If you enjoyed either of those books, you should absolutely read this one (and if you enjoyed this one and don't know John Irving, you should go check him out now).

Again not a 'page turner' in the classic sense of the Grisham world, but a page turner in a beautiful prose sense of the world. I certainly didn't want to put it down...
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VINE VOICEon December 20, 2012
Writing with a mixture of John Irving and a touch of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roorbach places his strong middle class characters in problems that no amount of money can solve. The author creates characters poles apart; the main character is David "Lizard" Hockmeyer, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, but he is dwarfed by a fiendish crime that has impacted his life. David sees his parents murderered, almost mob style, right in front of him and his own life is spared because the killers had emptied their bullets. David is no coward and confronts the killers and his father's shady dealings. Rather than isolate himself, 18 year old David becomes a back up quarterback for the Miami Dolphins and has a penchant for opening up restaurants.

Roobach's chacters are all but secondary. His beloved sister, Katie, is bi-polar (what we would term it today) and is married to man who worships her despite all odds. And there are many odds; she flits from activitiy to activity in her manic states and has no compunction of almost alluring her own brother.

Across the pond from the Hockmeyer's abode, is the High Side, a real mansion with rooms, secret rooms and a staff. Living there is Sylphide, a sprite, a world-class ballerina and the widow of an international rock star. High Side is reminiscent of Gatsby. Lizard's relationship with Sylphide is odd but drenched in full adolescent longings. He also has Emily Bright, a sexual mix of Korean and black, who attracts David in his prime.

The story is a 40 year arc of David's grief and his coming of age. Roorbach careens us back and forth from the present to the past with alacrity, actually he snakes from timeframe to timeframe to excess. I began to wonder if any narrator is reliable. This is a long journey for David, who eventually solves his parents' murder but pays a heavy price. The author loads us up with symbolism and superlatives. Do we covet the beautiful people or repel them? The cycle of events in flashback go on and on and the novel should have been shorter; I kept thinking, didn't I read about this before? The plot has a great set-up and we know that the parents' death impacted their children with sorrow and displacement. But the story needed to get moving in less complex venues. He misses a full 4 stars.
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on November 19, 2012
David, known as Lizard is the young giant whom we meet in high school. He lives with his father, the not so successful smooth talker, Nicholas; his sister Kate, his father's favorite and a tennis star; and his mother, a somewhat remote parent who encourages his football career. Kate is the nanny to disabled Linsey who lives across the pond in the grand home High Side. Linsey is the son of legendary rocker Dabney and the great ballerina Sylphide.
Under the surface is Kate's relationship with Dabney, his father's frantic failing, Lizard's deep lust for Sylphide, and the many mysteries of High Side.
This book moves back and forth over decades, revealing secrets through the years. Early on, Lizard's parents are killed on their way to a witness protection home and in front of Lizard and his sister. Dabney is already dead in a horrific but questionable car accident. The rest of the book carries the murder mystery sub plot.
But for me the important plot is the growth of Lizard as he comes to love the people around him. After his football career, he becomes a restauranteer meeting the wonderful Etienne and his love Ruangela, a masculine cross dresser. He loves and lusts for Sylphide who appears episodically through his life. He grows into the giant body of his birth.
Secondary character is the wonderful High Side, possibly the most fabulously imagined wonderland of literature. It has every luxury I never imagined and seems to grow and contract as needed. The best part is the fantasy small scale suite in the pool house, a nook of waterfall showers and snug nests. The restaurants take on another character and entice us with wonderful food, always fully realized.
The one flaw for me was the actual murder mystery which dragged through the book. I did like the way that theories seemed to reflect the person proposing them. I wasn't a fan of the final solution.
However the book as a whole is a warm bath with a perfect snack. It is the ideal way to spend the weekend peaking at other worlds. And the observations of the secrets that drive us all are deeply resonant. The language is rich and evocative, and Lizard is the boy you would like to meet.
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Basically the story of a nearly seven-foot tall, apolloesque teenager who falls in love with a diminutive widowed dancer and pursues her over 30 years. Author Bill Roorbach uses an intriguing mixed chronology to tell this saga of "Lizard" David Hochmeyer, Ivy-league jock, pro football player, chef/owner of a high-end vegetarian restaurant and perennial lover of the world's most famous ballerina. Early in the novel, when the focus is on the teenage Hochmeyer's dysfunctional family (sister Katy, Mom and semi-criminal Dad) and his hormonally driven pursuit of classmate, exotic Emily Bright, two shocking murders occur that will remain in Lizard's breathing consciousness for the rest of his life.

"Life Among Giants" is part murder mystery to be sure, but its heart is in the lives of the wonderful characters that populate the story. The protagonist David Hochmeyer is an interesting guy whose innate goodness and loyalty get him through some terrible events in much the same way that his incredible physical gifts and talents will give him extraordinary success as a scholar and athlete. He's not without flaw, however. His troubled family and his obsession with the dancer don't allow him real passion for other relationships or even for his sport. Eventually, food and cooking come close to the second loves of his life.

The saga of Hochmyer's life eventually winds toward a resolution of the murders that have haunted him through most of his life. That resolution will be personally costly, but will also make him a wealthy man and give him a purpose for the second half of his life.

Great, original story with fine characters. Recommended.
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on December 4, 2012
I would compare this book to FREEDOM by Franzen. Great writing, good mystery and interesting characters. On top of it he is a local Chicago writer. Good book club pick.
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on December 19, 2012
This is one of those books you want to put down but keep reading -- "just a few more pages" -- before you can quit. It isn't a mystery, per se. It's literary fiction involving a mystery, but it's mostly a coming-of-age story.

In the seventies, a seventeen-year-old giant sees his parents gunned down before him just as they're going into the Witness Protection Program. But his life has already changed: he's recently met a world-famous ballerina who lives across the water from his family, right after her rock star husband is killed in an auto accident. He's fascinated and the fascination seems to be mutual. Despite the ballerina being older and more sophisticated, she takes on other lovers but always returns to Lizard.

The story follows him (and his mentally ill sister) for years, throughout his professional football career and into the restaurant business. All the while waiting for the ballerina's call.

The descriptions are lovely as details deliberately unfold. When I finished, I wasn't sure the story was that good, but the writing makes the read worthwhile.

Don't read if you want a pow-bang thriller or a logical "What do you deduce, my dear Watson?" mystery. Read if the writing means as much to you as the plot.

Very nice read.
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VINE VOICEon February 11, 2013
I bought this book with fingers crossed. Usually when I buy a book I don't really know much about or an author I've never read, I hedge my bets and buy the e-book version. So buying this one in hardback was an article of faith; this time my crossed fingers boded good fortune.

Roorbach's book is primarily the story of David "Lizard" Hochmeyer, a football prodigy who as a young boy witnesses his father and mother being shot by a paid assassin. His sister Kate is there, too, and the siblings dwell on this deep into adulthood; indeed until near book's end. Adding to the story's complications are Sylphide, a renowned European ballet dancer, and her hangers-on, Kate's husband Jack, a pair of gay restauranteurs, and of course, David and Kate's parents.
The father is a rather enigmatic but eminently predictable figure to the end, the mother a histrionic, self-centered person, and the person (persons) who shot the pair are seen to be threatening Sylphide, David, and Kate as well. To say more might put the story at reader's risk, so I'll stop the synopsis there.

The writing is the charm of the book, Roorbach's prose (first-person - David), adding his own apparent gleam to all characters, large and small. This is the strong point of first-person narratives, but Roorbach adds what is clearly his own oomph to both story and characterizations. David is, by book's midpoint, a famed ex-football player and restauranteur, Sylphide is world famous, and yet, contrary to more cliched prose, are engaging, erring humans, yet with a deep honesty of character.

Roorbach is obviously influenced by the American postmodern fiction I've castigated, but to his credit, he makes it work by creating characters with charm, he keeps his narrator harnessed, and he creates layers and layers of subtlety to both that David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon, and others, might only dream about. My only complaint is that Roorbach's skittering back and forth in time isn't done as skillfully as I'd hoped, and that lack made the author's fluid prose sometimes seem phlegmatic.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars
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on March 21, 2014
I order just a ton of books from Amazon, and as a result, I often receive email requests to review a particular title. I was on page 80 of Life Among Giants -- already finding it a very special read -- and was sorely tempted to dash off a review right then and there... but held off until the very last page of this extraordinary novel. And now, having just moments ago bid those remarkable characters a bittersweet "goodbye," I now rush to urge anyone who loves a truly great reading experience to make this the next book you buy. And unlike many a novel I've read in the past, and will no doubt read in the future -- where, over time, the most entertaining of characters fade, and the plot having once thickened, quickly escapes my memory, I sincerely doubt such will be the case with Life Among Giants. Vividly drawn characters like these, woven so seamlessly into an unforgettable story, await all who take the plunge and spend some time Among Mr. Roorbach's Giants.
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on October 10, 2013
Fans of Roorbach (his O. Henry-winning stories, his seminal writers' textbook Writing Life Stories) will not be disappointed. Imagine the beauty and grace and surprise and power of "Big Bend," carried on for hundreds of pages. Readers who don't know him are in for a treat, wild characters floating along through a lake of settings painted with powerful strokes. The best thing I've read this year, it made me appreciate football and cooking in new ways, along with the bittersweet pain of the early death of parents and the unsung love they leave behind. Read and recommend it. This is worthy of an adaptation on some binge-watchable cable TV series.

And oh, the English. A novel written by a teacher of writing. Something to aspire to, if you practice the craft.
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on April 5, 2013
Book was a book club pick so I had to read it. Although starting with the murder of the main character David's parents I found it hard to feel a connection with any of the characters initially, and found none of them like able at first. If you find it hard to stay with a book this one may be a challenge at first.

But after starting it three times about page 150 I finally found the interesting characterizations and storyline hooking me in that others have explained. I finally grew to care about David and his essentially unsettled first 40 years of life and the solving of the multiple mysteries: why Kate was unbalanced, the truth about David's fathers essential ineptitude, and of course the opening murder. The switching time frames was a bit overdone but in retrospect it is like a flower slowing blooming. Ultimately an interesting read.
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