Friday, October 31, 2014

Giant by Edna Ferber

After reading the first chapter or two of Giant, I was sure I wouldn't like the rest of it. I couldn't tell exactly what was going on, there were too many characters and I didn't know which ones were important, and I was bored. I didn't think it would, or could, get any better.

But then--miracle of miracles--it did. The first couple chapters, it turned out, were more of a "flash forward," and almost the entire rest of of the book was a flashback, and I got to see the characters (the ones that mattered) start out young. It was terrific.

As a basic synopsis, Giant is a story set roughly in the 1920s/'30s (it does move through at least 20 years) about a Virginian woman, Leslie, who marries a Texan, Jordan "Bick" Benedict. Bick, who owns more than two million acres of land called the Reata ranch, is one of the Texas giants, and Leslie has to learn to deal with the unfamiliar Texas customs. More than just the customs, Leslie also has to deal with the questionable ways her own husband treats the Mexican workers on his land.

I love a book that discusses issues of gender, race, class, place, "Americanism," social expectations, and various other themes in new and interesting ways without beating readers over the head, and this book managed to do that. I also loved Leslie and her relationship with Bick. Bick, despite some of his beliefs about race and gender, is a generally good man who loves his family. And even though I agreed with Leslie on just about everything, I was always questioning whether she was going about solving the problems of the Texas society in the right ways. I love when questions are complicated, especially by a strong female character.

Admittedly, I might have been extra interested in this book because my husband is from Texas. Texas history has been somewhat interesting to me since I've been married, and this book made me even more interested. It's a little unusual, I think, to find a classic novel about Texas. (Does this book count as a classic? I did read it for an English class, but it doesn't seem to get much critical notice.)

However, even though I really enjoyed Giant, more than I thought I would, it still had its drawbacks. The writing style was fine--nothing to complain about, but not amazing. The characters drew me in and the style didn't trip me up, so I was able to enjoy it without trouble, but usually for me to really love a book, I also love it just for the style.

And there was still the pesky issue of the first couple chapters. What was the point of doing a "flash forward," only to take the reader back to the beginning and then follow the story chronologically? I can see a few reasons--to nail down the story as being about Texas more than about anything else, say--but I don't think the reasons were good enough, unfortunately. It was too boring and confusing a beginning and I just had to get past it before I could enjoy the story. I think it's an author's obligation to give the reader a reason to be interested in at least the first 20 pages, and I don't think Ferber succeeded.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed Giant. I do think it deserves to be recognized as a classic in its way, maybe a minor classic.


  1. I'm not sure I'd call it a classic either, but definitely a good book worth reading.

    I grew up watching the movie version, which has Rock Hudson as Bick, Elizabeth Taylor as Leslie, and James Dean as Jett Rink. The latter character is WAY different from in the book, which I found fascinating, but also sad because when I was a little girl, my second crush ever was on Jett Rink, so I was sad that he's so mean and low-down in the book. But anyway... when I read this, the book's introduction said something about how this book made a lot of Texans really mad because of its unsympathetic portrayal of them. Found that interesting.

    So anyway, now I'm imagining you're Leslie, staying up all night long reading about Texas so you can pick fights with your father's house guest in the morning, and then he marries you. And now I don't remember if that part is even in the book so... time for me to go to sleep.

    1. Haha! That's exactly what happened between my husband and me...(not) :P

      I watched that movie too since it was for my literature and film class. I liked it, but I think I liked the book better (probably because I read the book first). The interpretation of Jett in the movie is definitely different...I preferred hating him to feeling sorry for him. ;) And I thought the book was more sympathetic toward Texans than the movie was.

    2. I pretty much spent large chunks of the book going, "WHY have you made Jett so hateful???" so yeah... definitely liked the movie better because I saw it first and often.