New Maine Times Book Review: Life Among the Giants

Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Life Among the Giants
LIFE AMONG GIANTS
By Bill Roorbach.
Algonquin Books, 2012.
352 pages, $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-61620-076-3.
 
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
 
    In 1970, after eating lunch with his parents, seventeen year old David “Lizard” Hochmeyer steps outside the restaurant just in time to see his father, mother, and their bodyguard shot to death by a cold-blooded killer.  The only reason David is still alive is because the shooter ran out of bullets.  But David saw the killer’s face, even heard his name called, and will spend the next forty years trying to figure out what to do about the murders.
 
    LIFE AMONG GIANTS is Maine author Bill Roorbach’s complex and beautifully written novel, his eighth book of fiction and non-fiction.  Roorbach is an award-winning writer whose fans will recall his excellent BIG BEND (Counterpoint, 2002) and TEMPLE STREAM (Dial Press, 2006).
 
    This well-crafted story is a clever blend of mystery, love, romance, and the addiction of celebrity, with obsession, guilt, revenge, and family secrets so dark and tangled that David finally realizes:  “Our secrets gave us power.  And then they took our power away.”  Roorbach’s deft handling of the story’s secrets and their subtle revelations will keep readers guessing throughout this smart and very believable tale.
 
    At seventeen David is a huge, handsome, horny, and sharp teenager, playing high school football, chasing schoolgirls, and lusting after the gorgeous prima ballerina who lives in High Side, the mansion across the pond from his family’s modest home.  His father is a gullible shyster, quick with a smile and a sales pitch, suddenly in trouble with the law over some shady financial dealings.  His mother plays tennis and drinks martinis at noon.  His older sister, Kate, is a troubled young woman.
 
    After his parents’ murders, David sees curious connections between his father’s and sister’s relationship with their wealthy celebrity neighbors, the renowned ballerina, Sylphide, and her mysteriously dead rock star husband.  However, David’s own lust for the older woman clouds his thinking.
 
    It will take forty years of handwringing angst, quirky and tumultuous love affairs (even steamy scenes with Sylphide), a stellar football career at Princeton and as a back-up quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, and his own fame and celebrity status as a successful restaurateur before David is convinced the connection between the 1970s murders and Sylphide is both real and deadly, especially for him.  After all, he is the only witness to the 1970 killings.
 
    Then forty years later the killer and his partner come into David’s new restaurant and all three men recognize each other.  The meaning is clear.  Their visit is not a coincidence, someone sent them, and David now knows who and why.  The question now is – What does he do about it?
 
    His sister, in one of her more lucid moments, offers an obsessive, but effective idea, one she has pursued for years without result.  Added by his friends, the loyal Jamaican chef and his transvestite buddy, an implacable butler, a savvy woodland forager, and the aging ballerina, David comes up with a brilliant plan to make things right.  However, only two people know what David is really going to do.
 
    How David resolves this immediate threat is a stunning depiction of suspenseful drama and moral dilemma, with a surprising conclusion that is both shocking and oddly satisfying.  Roorbach is in rare form with this cynical, often hilarious story of fatuous stardom, lost opportunities, and a man’s desperate and fateful decision.
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