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Little, Big, American Fantasy Novel Review

Author John Crowley

This is the spoiler free review for Little, Big by John Crowley. If you would like to read the very long and somewhat confusing synopsis and spoiler full review please visit here.

I’m calling Little, Big an American fantasy novel simply because it needs it’s own genre. It’s closest to fantasy but it’s not hard fantasy with magic wands or full shapeshifters. It’s more like magical realism but the magic isn’t accidental or incidental.

It’s fantasy set in the early 1900s in anywhere middle America. It delves into the dichotomy of the little town verses the big city but does not linger there. The setting is largely symbolic and purposefully non-specific.

So is any use of magic, protections, curses, changelings, fairies, interdimensional travel, or any other strange fantasy-esque doings. Little, Big makes its own rules and runs its own genre defying plots wherever it pleases.

The book follows the entire history of the Drinkwater family starting with Smoky and Daily Alice but going to her previous ancestor Violet as well as her offspring Auberon and the last generation before the end of what they refer to as The Tale.

We see how the family started with a woman named Violet who can access the magic that the world has to offer but few others can use. We see how the family ends under the guidance of a long lost child who mysteriously vanished shortly after her birth.

Characters have complex histories with each other and the story bounces back and forth along a timeline with very little notice or pretense. Simply put, this story is complicated.

I enjoyed trying to decipher the layers of symbolism even if I sometimes fell short of fully understanding what Crowley was going for. At times it is clear that this book was written during a different era than my own.

The novel feels like the kind of book I would have read back in school around the same time we were reading all of the other great white male authors of early Americana. I would love to see Little, Big on a curriculum alongside Faulker, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. He would fit right in and Little, Big is far more interesting than many of the other classics that are traditionally taught. I mean, this one has people who can talk to animals!

Little, Big cries out for discussion. It needs to be dissected to be understood. It is not a surface level book and I believe that many readers will have many different interpretations of the events that unfold. If you’ve read it please tell me yours!

4/5 fairies 🧚‍♀️🧚‍♀️🧚‍♀️🧚‍♀️

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