LIFE AMONG GIANTS
"... alive, electric, and surprisingly dangerous." --Haley Tanner, The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, February 24, 2013
The story begins in 1970, when disaster befalls David Hochmeyer, aka Lizard, a high school football star. Across the pond in a mansion the size of a museum lives the world's greatest ballerina, whose own disasters intersect David's in the most intimate ways.
"An exploration of lives touched by greatness and tragedy in equal measure, Roorbach’s latest novel traces towering Princeton graduate and NFL player–cum– restaurateur David “Lizard” Hochmeyer in his attempt to unravel the tangled conspiracy behind his parents’ murder in 1970. When his parents are killed in front of him at a restaurant, David believes the culprits are connected to his neighbor, the elegant ballerina Sylphide, whose rock star husband also died under mysterious circumstances, and with whom David has fallen heedlessly in love. As David trades a career in football for one in food, his sister, Kate, a tennis star with “tough girl” endorsements, slides into paranoia over their parents’ deaths. It is a soapy and thrilling indulgence, a tale of opulence, love triangles, and madness, set against a sumptuous landscape of lust and feasts, a sensory abundance that fails to mitigate the sorrows of David’s youth. This is a purely Gatsbyesque portrayal of celebrity; David and Sylphide inhabit a galaxy of stars, each more blinding and destructive than the next, drawing intrigue and violence into their orbits. Roorbach (Big Bend) has written a mystery free of contemporary cynicism and recalling the glitter and allure of a kind of stardom that has also, in its way, been collateral damage to a greedy financial machine." --Publisher's Weekly
Hephzibah Anderson - Bloomberg News. Nov 19, 2012:
"David “Lizard” Hochmeyer is a former Miami Dolphins quarterback who’s now a successful chef. At almost 7 feet tall, he towers above most mortals, yet he is far from the only colossus in Bill Roorbach’s eventful, elegiac novel of sports and murder, food and finance.
Life Among Giants also introduces Lizard’s wild big sister, Kate, a tennis pro showered with endorsement deals for Victoria’s Secret and spermicidal jellies. Kate is married to her former Yale professor, author of a hippie pop-psych classic. Even Lizard’s first love, Emily, a half-black, half-Korean dancer, becomes a celebrity.
Dwarfing everyone is the couple who owned High Side, the mansion across the pond from Lizard’s childhood home in Connecticut: British rocker Dabney Stryker-Stewart, who becomes a still-greater legend after dying in a car wreck, and his ethereal widow, a famous ballerina named Sylphide.
It’s a seductive world whose beautiful, damaged women, easy grace and lights across the water evoke F. Scott Fitzgerald. No surprise, then, that these charmed lives are riven with violence and madness from the novel’s start.
In opens in 1970 when Lizard’s parents are gunned down outside a restaurant. Lizard is still in high school, and in the decades that follow he and Kate obsess over catching their parents’ killer.
The murder seems to have been connected to their father’s employer, the villainous Thierry Perdhomme, head of Dolus Financial. In 2009 the firm turned out not to be too big to fail, despite a federal infusion of $15 billion.
Back in 1970, however, Pa Hochmeyer struck a deal with the FBI to testify against Perdhomme in a vast embezzlement and extortion racket. A twinkly-eyed conman whose childhood nickname was “Sneaky,” he was in way over his head.
As the narrative flits between the months leading to the murder and the years that follow, its ever thickening plot is fueled by secrets. As a teen babysitter, Kate had been close -- perhaps too close -- to Dabney. Then, after Dabney’s death, it was Lizard’s turn to hang out at High Side, comforting grief- stricken Sylphide.
“Our secrets gave us power. And then they took our power away,” he notes.
Was Dabney’s death somehow connected to the Hochmeyers’? Could Sylphide have choreographed everything, as Kate insists? The novel opts for a slow reveal, allowing Roorbach to riff on football and love and, most lingeringly of all, meals -- the perfect BLT Lizard’s parents savored, some mushroom sausages that will determine the novel’s climax.
It’s not only the ghost of Gatsby that hovers over this personable tale. You’ll glimpse John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, among others. There are echoes of enchanted fairy stories -- in the title and in motifs like the talismanic stone, speckled and vaguely heart-shaped, that passes back and forth between Lizard and Sylphide for years.
Roorbach has written a novel with an acute sense of its own mythology. Lizard’s father, for instance, isn’t merely handsome; he is “handsome forever.” The prose seems to recall another America, brighter and more innocent, a country where celebrity still carried some mystique and the good life was epitomized by tennis club martinis and “steaks the size of tires.”
Lizard never quite loses his own shambling innocence. Even as an adult, landing a spot with the Dolphins then retiring to take up cooking and open a hip, super-successful restaurant back in Connecticut, he’s prone to the “whoas” that peppered his teenage observations of the world.
Ultimately, the biggest mystery our narrator faces is the man in the mirror. As he says of his ex-girlfriend Emily, “her life had gotten too big for her very quickly, and mine had always been too big for me.”
(Hephzibah Anderson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.) "
"A book that's big in the best of ways, LIFE AMONG GIANTS strolls effortlessly across several recent American decades, guiding a big-eyed reader through worlds of football, ballet, murder, fine food, investment fraud, gaudy wealth, murder again, international intrigue, and suspense, all the while staying within the tight limits of a family saga that rings universal. Bill Roorbach has delivered his award-winning writing talents in one big bunch." --Clyde Edgerton
"LIFE AMONG GIANTS is a wild ride of a novel, deliciously visceral, psychologically twisted, furiously engaging. Lizard Hochmeyer is a little like my Irish Wolfhound...too darn big not to get himself into trouble, but it is the accumulative and self inflicted quality of that trouble, its layers and its range, as well as Lizard's dogged attempts to come to terms with it, that make him a hero I will never forget. Roorbach gives us such perfect and particular access to Lizard, and by extension to the world of superlatives he inhabits--reading it taught me something I didn't know about the way the world works, about how men and women work, and it is a good day for everybody when that story gets made new again." Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
"LIFE AMONG GIANTS is a sprawling, exuberant novel filled with murder and lust and, mostly, love. Bill Roorbach is a writer with enormous vision and an even more enormous heart." Ann Hood
"LIFE AMONG GIANTS is such a surprise: an operatic novel of grand emotions and grand events, a story about murder, money and madness but also the worlds of dance, food, sports, and romance, all experienced at their over-the-top best. So skip tonight’s movie, dinner, and ho-hum sunset, and sit back and enjoy. No one writes pleasure quite like Bill Roorbach." --Debra Spark