Title: The Cardiff Giant
Author: Larry Lockridge
Genre: Satire / Humor
Jack Thrasher, investigative reporter for The Discovery Channel has been sent to Cooperstown, New York to research the disappearance of “The Cardiff Giant” from the Farmers’ Museum. The inhabitants of Cooperstown subscribe to some bizarre theories and it’s up to Jack to try and make sense of it all.
The setting of Cooperstown naturally references the writer, James Fenimore Cooper, and, indeed, there are some loose parallels to his work and life, although a reader does not require knowledge to engage with the novel.
The story begins in 2003, narrated in first-person by Jack. There is an immediate sense of implied trust in him as he swiftly shares a brief, honest overview of his life shot through with weary cynicism of his own shortcomings.
He is an authentic, convincing voice, providing both an anchor and a sharp contrast against the ever-increasing whimsical surrealist satire that Lockridge concocts, and which hurtles the reader into a rabbit hole of ironic parody for the majority of the novel.
It’s clear that Lockridge had an enormous amount of fun writing The Cardiff Giant. It vibrates with a constant stream of comic detours, frolics, and wisecracks, all imparted at boisterous, breakneck speed.
Some of the humor is a touch crude, but, on a deeper level, it provides a real biting commentary on the seemingly limitless human capacity for self-sabotaging folly.
Similarly, the beginning lends a light-hearted, fun impression but this disguises a narrative crammed with allegorical and classical references. All of which are carefully chosen to highlight the sub-text together with fascinating nuggets of historical trivia.
For example, the character of Daniel Deronda, who becomes fairly central later in the story, affords reference to a novel within a novel, giving the effect of a literary hall of mirrors and emphasizing the search for personal fulfillment, often through unconventional channels, which is pertinent to The Cardiff Giant.
The overt satire ensures that, in part, The Cardiff Giant resembles a medieval morality play which is reinforced by the tumbling, shambling spectacle of ludicrous characters who have no idea how ridiculously pathetic they are, and yet all of whom contain a simmering undercurrent of desperation and pathos.
A couple of the characters push their boundaries a little too far. Esther’s sensibilities, or lack of, were sometimes excessive, but this novel is all about exaggerated derision, so taken within that guise, she works well.
The amusingly exhausting figure of Hazel Bouche provided clear mockery of the toxic obsequiousness surrounding those perceived as celebrities. Barry Tarbox, Sheriff and pig farmer, was entertainingly rustic and Tony “the Bat” Homero was pure, unashamed caricature.
Religion, in all its forms, features heavily for the cast, from a fanatical interest in Kabbalah mysticism to ancient Native American rituals. It’s refreshingly irreverent, funny, and yet manages to be gently profound and deceptively well-informed.
However, the framework on which the humor is hung could have done with a little more strength of definition. Although the disappearance of “The Cardiff Giant” can be taken literally or metaphorically, a slightly more linear aspect in relation to the search for the Giant might have been beneficial to bring an order to a narrative that is occasionally too chaotic for reader comfort.
Clever, satirical, and peppered with a quirky ensemble of misfits, The Cardiff Giant is a rollicking, rambunctious novel. Liberally drizzled with saucy ridicule, sexual currency, and acerbic wit, the book gifts the reader a fast-paced and farcical caper on the absurdities of human nature woven through with folklore, fable, and fact.
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