LITTLE GIANT OF
BY TIFFANY BAKER
When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how record breakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother's death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of femine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated--Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.
Serena Jane's beauty proves to be her greatest blessing and her biggest curse, for it makes her the obsession of classmate Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations. Though they have long been the pillars of the community, the earliest Robert Morgan married the town witch, Tabitha Dyerson, and the location of her fabled shadow book--containing mysterious secrets for healing and darker powers--has been the subject of town gossip ever since. Bob Bob Morgan, one of Truly's biggest tormentors, does the unthinkable to claim the prize of Serena Jane, and changes the destiny of all Aberdeen from there on.
When Serena Jane flees town and a loveless marriage to Bob Bob, it is Truly who must become the woman of a house that she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew Bobbie. Truly's brother-in-law is relentless and brutal; he criticizes her physique and the limitations of her health as a result, and degrades her more than any one human could bear. It is only when Truly finds her calling--the ability to heal illness with herbs and naturopathic techniques--hidden within the folds of Robert Morgan's family quilt, that she begins to regain control over her life and herself. Unearthed family secrets, however, will lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually break the Morgan family apart forever, but Truly's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County, and the possibility of love in unexpected places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tiffany Baker lives in Tiburon, California with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.
Since Wally Lamb gave us Dolores Price in SHE’S COME UNDONE, I have yearned for a character like Truly Plaice and now thanks to Tiffany Baker’s superbly imaginative and captivating writing, we have a ‘little giant’ to root for. This book is sheer magic in so many ways as we follow the painfully poignant journey of our heroine, Truly, in a life filled with contrasts: tragedy and small wonders, sorrow and delight, triumph and tragedy.
Aberdeen County, in rural New York State, is a character in itself as the setting plays into the story in general. This is a small town where everyone is connected in some way either as a family member or through marriage. Of course, in a place such as this, everyone knows each other’s business as well. And Truly Plaice didn’t enter this town quietly but rather as BIG news!
Lily Plaice was expecting her second child in 1953 and was so large during her pregnancy that the townspeople made wagers on how big the baby would be. However, none of the citizens of
As the narrator of the story, Truly describes how her father was totally unprepared to take care of two young children-herself and older sister, Serena. Due to a pituitary gland deformity, Truly grows larger each day and when she was old enough to realize she was different, there was no sympathetic parent to help her cope with this odd medical condition. Her father is hateful towards her and verbalizes that it was her fault her mother died trying to “push her out”. Truly hopes for an escape when she starts school but instead, she gains her nickname on the first day when the teacher says to her, “You’re a Little Giant”.
Serena and Truly are separated when their father dies and the girls go to live with other families. Serena, pretty and “normal” looking, goes to live with a very rich family while Truly is sent to live on a farm with a very poor family. Amanda Pickerton and her minister husband take in Serena and they adore her and treat her like a doll. Truly was sent to a broken down farm owned by the Dyerson family where she grew to love working outside and with the farm horses. Truly had only two friends, unusual in their own ways, young Amelia Dyerson and a quick minded boy named Marcus. He was a whiz at remembering details. This group made up a pathetic existence for Truly.
Meanwhile, Serena Jane's future seems to be going very well until Bob Bob Morgan comes along. He is the youngest of the Morgan family who have been the town’s doctor for what seems like forever. The Morgan family history goes far back in
READING GROUP GUIDE:
1. Truly is the “little giant” of this book, yet her size seems to make her less, rather than more, visible to the town around her. Can you explain this phenomenon? What do you think the author is trying to say about her outsider status?
2. Serena Jane and Truly are as physically different as sisters can be, yet Truly sees that this difference is crucial, explaining “the reason the two of us were as opposite as sewage and spring water, I thought, was that pretty can’t exist without ugly.” (pp. 97-98) How would you describe Truly and Serena’s connection? How is it different from Truly’s relationship with Amelia Dyerson? Which seems the more genuine sisterhood to you?
3. As the successor to a long line of old-fashioned, small-town doctors, Robert Morgan is traditional, strict, and often cruel. I the end, however, the legacy terminates with him and he becomes Aberdeen’s last Dr. Morgan. How do he and Bobbie stray from the family paradigm? What Morgan characteristics stayed with each of them? Is the town “more modern” without a Dr. Morgan, and with Bobbie and Salvatore’s restaurant instead? Is the replacement of nurturing through nourishment rather than doctoring a symbolic replacement?
4. Death haunts Truly and all of Aberdeen, sometimes in unexpected ways. As a gardener, Marcus’s aim is to “make things live,” but, as Truly realizes, “wasn’t it also true that gardeners were always wrestling with death, whether in the form of drought, or blight, or hungry insects? In a garden, Marcus always said, death was the first, last and only fact of life.” What other parallels do you see in the ways Marcus and Truly court life and death?
5. Truly’s size marks her as an outcast, but throughout the novel, other characters have trouble “fitting in” in a more figurative way. Examine how this manifests in Bobbie, Marcus, Amelia, even Serena Jane. What larger point do you this the author might be trying to make about the importance of conforming?
6. What role does Aberdeen County play in the novel? Could the story or these characters exist elsewhere? Do the effects of the 60s and the Vietnam War seem to touch Aberdeen in the same way they touched the rest of the country? What is unique and what is not about Aberdeen as a setting?
7. When Amelia discovers how Priscilla Sparrow and Robert Morgan died, she asks Truly whether it was mercy or murder that killed them. What do you think? How do you feel about Truly’s actions? What in Truly’s character draws her to “collect souls” as she comes to call it?
8. When Marcus and Truly finally come together, Marcus says “We’re not exactly a match made in heaven, you and I, but I figure we’re good enough for here on earth” (p. 334) What does he mean by this? Do you agree?
9. Why doesn’t Robert Morgan “care” that his son runs away? What does it say about what he thinks of himself? How does this connect to Serena Jane’s leaving and his reaction to that event?
10. After Robert Morgan’s death, Truly gradually takes on some of his responsibilities as town doctor by using the knowledge she’s gained from Tabitha’s quilt. How is this a fitting purpose for Truly, and a fitting counterpoint to the legacy of Morgan doctors? 11. What about this story is larger than life or possesses elements of a tall tale or folklore? How are these details woven into the story? How is the book similar to or different from other works in this tradition?
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