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Giant

Giant

by Edna Ferber
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
Current Retail Price: $14.95

Giant is what you'd expect a novel about Texas cattle and oil magnates to be like—long, sometimes overwrought, and utterly American. The narrative follows the fortunes of four generations of the Benedict family as they amass land and money, and explores themes oflove and power and their (often dysfunctional) relationship. Similar in many ways to the works of her contemporary Upton Sinclair, Ferber's story deals with the nouveau-riche during and after the Gilded Age, whereas Sinclair was preoccuppied with the trials of the common man.

Ferber's prose style is dense and her dialogue isn't very good (it's stilted and not very nuanced). It is a product of its time—the 1920s, when excess was the rule and artifice was more highly valued (often, at least—there are exceptions) than realism. So why read this book? Not for the aesthetic value, certainly. Don't get the wrong idea:Ferber isn't a bad writer, she just isn't very good.

The value of Giant lies in Ferber's perceptive analysis of the effect power and its pursuit has on men and women. At one point the character Luz says, "No honeymoon's as important as roundup at Reata," a sentiment indicative of the attitude motivating most of the characters in this novel. While she doesn't indulge in outright pessimism (you could even argue that she is too forgiving, not judgmental enough), Ferber nonetheless follows the interplay of personal and corporate concerns to its logical conclusion, and thankfully refrains from justification or a too-happy ending.

This is by no means one of the greatest works of American literature, but it is insightful and useful as an historical artifact describing a way of life in a time and place that have long since disappeared or been subsumed into the broader culture. The Texas described is familiar but ultimately unrecognizable, a land where only giants have a chance of survival.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating
Summary: The great value of this saga of big Texas oil is the inherent commentary on the potential evil of big business and greed.

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