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Friday, October 2, 2009

What I'm Reading: Huge

Huge: A Novel

Back in August I read Huge by James Fuerst. I initially picked this first novel up because it takes place in my home state, New Jersey. I will read anything that is set in NJ. So for me, the bar was not set too high.

Here is the basic plot. Our narrator is Eugene (aka "Huge"), a smart kid with serious anger issues. He has skipped a grade and then been forced to stay back because of his inability to control himself. He is precocious and self aware and addicted to pulp mysteries. He thinks he is Sam Spade.

When Huge's grandmother's retirement home is vandalized, Huge puts himself and his sidekick, Thrash (a stuffed frog) on the case. With a single mother and busy, social butterfly sister, Huge is left to fend for himself quite often. The plot is thin, but eventually Huge discovers the truth. Along the way, he learns quite a bit about human nature, himself, and how to deal with his anger issues in a more appropriate manner.

Appeal: This is not a novel for people who read for plot. Huge is about characters, specifically Huge, but the other around him. Fuerst captures adolescence very well. The reader roots for Huge, and we understand his awkwardness all too well. But again, if you want a straight plot, don't read Huge. It goes off on tangents, plot threads are left and not picked back up, and there are still many questions at the book's conclusion. But, this is all fine if you understand that the plot is secondary to the characters here. In my opinion, plot threads being left behind serve as an illustration of the adolescent mind. They are interested in something and then forget it when something more interesting is introduced.

All this being said about plot, this is a slice-of-life novel without a clear beginning or end. So the issue of who vandalized the nursing home is solved by the last page, but the over all issues that Huge will have to deal with for many teenage years to come, are only beginning to be addressed.

For me, setting was also an appeal, but my co-worker Kathy read it too, has no connection to NJ, and also enjoyed it. She said it could have been set in any suburban area.

This is a slightly darker novel, due to Huge's anger issues, but the overall tone is one of hopefulness. There is a lot of quirky humor here too.

Finally, Huge is a coming-of-age story narrated by a kid, but I think it is best enjoyed by older readers, 16 and up. You need to have been through the early years of adolescence to really understand and appreciate what Huge is going through. Also, there is just a bit too much discussion of sexual situations for me to feel comfortable giving this to a 12 year-old.

The Adult Reading Round Table has been discussing Huge here on our wiki. This is a great place to go and see other opinions on this novel; some which are much less flattering.

Readalikes: Huge immediately had me thinking of two other slice-of-life, coming-of-age novels, Catcher in the Rye and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Huge is trying to figure out his place in the world as he navigates the tightrope between childhood and adulthood just like Holden and Christopher. Also all three have mental health issues that need to be overcome.

I read The Dead Father's Club a while back and I think that would also work.

For those who enjoyed the hard-boiled-esque narration by an odd protagonist, I would also suggest Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, which takes place in 1950s, Brooklyn, and the PI has Tourette's syndrome. There is no coming-of-age issues here, and there is strong language, violence, and some sex; so, adults only here.

Obviously, readers may also be interested in reading more of Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade stories.

Nonfiction interests may range from books about my home state, New Jersey to anger management for kids.

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