An outcast ‘giant’ discovers the magic of secret spells in this debut novel.
Once upon a time, there were two sisters. The oldest was so beautiful that her mother used to stay up late at nights, embroidering roses and ladybugs on her clothes and decorating her daughter “like a cake.”
When the youngest was born, the entire town camped out in front of her parents’ house, taking bets on how big the baby would be.
Tiffany Baker doesn’t start her story with the words “once upon a time,” but she easily could have. Her debut novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County spins an American fairy tale that’s part Alice Hoffman, part Brothers Grimm. The wolf, the princess, the dead mother, the giant, the witch – all are present.
There’s even a prince in disguise.
Baker, like Gregory Maguire of “Wicked,” has the wit to realize that the witch’s story is more interesting than the princess’s. There are actually two in “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County”: Tabitha Dyerson, who was the town’s healer before the first doctor came loping into town after the Civil War; and Truly, the town’s “little giant” and the first person to unlock the secret of where Tabitha hid her “spells.”
“After all, spinsters have always been a social problem all up and down history, and spinsters with spells are even more unappealing,” Truly tells the reader as she recounts the history of Tabitha’s decision to marry that first doctor, Robert Morgan, whose descendants still bear his name and profession.
“The fairy child and the ugly duckling,” as Truly calls herself and her older sister, are orphaned in short order, in true fairy-tale tradition. Truly’s mother dies during her birth – due not to Truly’s size, as her dad and the rest of the town believe, but to cancer.
After their dad succumbs to alcoholism, “satiny” Serena Jane is fussed over by the preacher’s wife, while ungainly Truly is sent to live at the broken-down farm of Tabitha’s luckless descendants, who have a daughter her age.