Is The Hero of this Book a novel or a memoir?
In either case, Elizabeth McCracken’s account of losing a mother is wrenching and tender.
Beloved by many readers, Elizabeth McCracken is still best known for her debut novel The Giant’s House, published in 1996. That delightful tale about a librarian and her enormous lover brought McCracken, a librarian, a National Book Award nomination and outsized expectations.
But she did not immediately fulfill them. Instead she became a writers’ writer, quite literally—teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, editing Ann Patchett, and taking up the James A. Michener Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Texas. Five years passed between her first novel and her second; 20 years between her first story collection and the next. Along the way, she lived through the stillbirth of one son and the birth of another, as told in a steely memoir.
Lately she has been picking up the pace, publishing four books in the last eight years. Each bears some relation to her own life. Among the recurring themes are lost children, old lore, antiquated talk, vanished places, things one no longer finds in Massachusetts (where she no longer lives), and—perhaps related to these—a kind of spiritual curiosity, even though she has confessed, “My religion is worry.” Why does a boy grow so large that his body fails him? Why does a child die? These are spiritual questions that she meets with just enough humor to carry us from one grave-rubbed page to the next.