Fall in the North Atlantic U.S. is the perfect time and place to read Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach–over a long weekend, or a chapter at a time as the days shorten and the early evenings chase you to bed. This easy-paced yet structurally complex novel is laced with just enough bittersweet regret to perfectly complement the turning leaves. There’s plenty of action and intrigue here for thriller fans, yet also a thoughtful set of intertwining character journeys through relationship, football, haute cuisine, dance, 1970s nostalgia, (and yes, even some surprisingly decent sex) that will appeal to the more literary-leaning.
David “Lizard” Hochmeyer is a charming Princeton-bound high school football player who seems to have it all: golden good looks, devoted power-set parents, and a ticket to the Ivy League. He shares a pond in his Connecticut backyard with rock star Dabney Stryker-Stewart and his enchanting wife, the world-famous ballet dancer Sylphide. His fiery sister, Kate, is both goddess and puzzle to him. When Lizard’s parents are murdered under suspicious circumstances, he and Kate experience a seismic shift that will drive them to seek answers for the rest of their lives. Roorbach weaves together decades’ worth of these larger-than-life personalities to uncover the secrets and foibles that might shed light on the double murder.
Lizard shares his love for good and wholesome food, down and dirty football, and brilliant, artistic women throughout with a charm that belies the trouble and grief driving his life. On occasion the ease with which he and his fellow characters fall into fame and prestigious positions comes across as unbelievable. Lizard follows up his tenure as a third-string quarterback for the Miami Dolphins in their heyday, for instance, with not one but two acclaimed gourmet restaurants, though his only training at cooking came from a long-term Southern girlfriend who taught him decent barbecue. His true love, Emily, rises to immediate fame as an international dance star under Sylphide’s tutelage–while Lizard gets his intimate turn, over the years, with both fabulous women.
But in portraying these lives in the spectacular way he does, Roorbach wisely taps into our delight with romantic and ambitious fantasy. He does it skillfully, too, engaging modern readers with modern issues and modern-seeming characters inhabiting a pop culture world of the past. He opts for a multi-cultural, multi-sexual, and even cross-gender cast of characters, keeping the dialogue highly entertaining as well as relevant in our world of ever-brightening awareness to global human issues, from gender consciousness to bad banks to Lizard’s foodie obsession with mushrooms.
Life Among Giants is a sprawling, fun, and rich novel, deserving of the praise it received on its release from both the New York Times and The Washington Post. Just like the season of fall–all this, and football too.