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Susan Swan.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1983.
340pp, paper, $14.95.
ISBN 0-88619-043-6.

Reviewed by James Kingstone.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

Susan Swan, the author of The Biggest Modern Woman Of The World, has written a remarkable novel: original, engagingly inventive, daring, occasionally ribald in its humour, and broadly entertaining. Susan Swan's protagonist, Anna Swan (there may be a relation), is a Nova Scotia giantess for whom readers develop a firm measure of sympathy as they begin to participate in her absurdly "gigantic" universe. In the beginning her problems are certainly unique, but though she is well over seven feet tall and unusually ambitious for a Victorian lady, she is soon seen as remarkably similar to contemporary women. And though we are startled by her intellectual depth and sensitivity—and perhaps some readers will find credibility is stretched here—Susan Swan has created a strong character whose perceptions touch a nerve. Anna is a mere curiosity in the beginning of the novel, but we grow to like her and as a result, are willing to forgive many of the novel's faults.

Much of the novel is told from Anna's point of view, and we are almost immediately persuaded to her way of viewing the world. Moreover, while many see her as a freak to be jeered at, the reader wants to see Anna succeed, wants to see her struggle with her freakishness and carve out an identity for herself that does not depend on people's perceptions of her as a sideshow curiosity. The reader sympathizes because of the protagonist's own insightful capacity to size up her universe. This passage, from the beginning of the novel, has a number of attractive qualities:

       There I am, the INFANT GIANTESS, lying on the dirt floor, my first
       kingdom. I look like a pink tuber and am ludicrously fat. My cheeks
       are sucking pouches; my fingers are tree-toad pads. They stick and
       cling to what's offered. I can't hold up my hairless, melon-sized head.
       My mouth is sucking a table leg as if it's a wooden nipple and my eyes
       are glued to the floor, mesmerized by the sight of my parents' feet.

Swan's verbal facility alone commands attention and affords much pleasure. And there is never any question that the heroine sees herself in real terms, her own perceptions and sensitivities anchored firmly on the ground. By the end of the novel, readers set aside her physical strangeness and find they have been observing a real woman, a genuine feat given the unreality of so much of the substance of this novel.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, ON.
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