The Barnes & Noble Review
John Crowley's Little, Big, winner of a 1982 World Fantasy Award, is one of the authentic masterpieces of modern imaginative literature. Painstakingly composed and elegantly structured, it is the sort of book that defies categorization yet lodges permanently in the memories of readers fortunate enough to encounter it. It had been unaccountably out of print for several years, but is again available in paperback.
Little, Big tells the story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man from The City who marries Daily Alice Drinkwater, oldest daughter of a family which has a long-standing relationship with an ancient, powerful, and elusive race of fairies. Reaching backward to the early years of that relationship and extending outward into a bleak and inhospitable future, the novel chronicles the efforts of several generations of Drinkwaters to come to terms with their peculiar circumstances and to understand their role in the ongoing Story, which dominates and encompasses them all.
The beauty of the book lies in the elegance of its language, and in the precision with which the quotidian details of the characters' lives are played out against the slowly unfolding backdrop of their magical and mysterious destiny. Dense, complex, and richly allusive, Little, Big is not a book for the lazy or casual reader, but is, rather, one that demands and repays the closest attention. It remains, even after multiple readings, as vital, intricate, and interesting as the world, or worlds, it brings so vividly to life. Bill Sheehan
Read an Excerpt
Chapter OneMen are men, but Man is a woman.
On a certain day in June, 19, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn't ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.
Somewhere to Elsewhere
Though he had left his City room early in the morning it was nearly noon before he had crossed the huge bridge on a little-used walkway and come out into the named but boundaryless towns on the north side of the river. Through the afternoon he negotiated those Indian-named places, usually unable to take the straight route commanded by the imperious and constant flow of traffic; he wentneighborhood by neighborhood, looking down alleys and into stores. He saw few walkers, even indigenous, though there were kids on bikes; he wondered about their lives in these places, which to him seemed gloomily peripheral, though the kids were cheerful enough.
The regular blocks of commercial avenues and residential streets began gradually to become disordered, thinning like the extremesof a great forest; began to be broken by weedy lots as though by glades; now and then a dusty undergrown woods or a scruffy meadow announced that it was available to be turned into an industrial park. Smoky turned that phrase over in his mind, since that seemed truly the placein the world where he was, the industrial park, between the desert and the sown.
He stopped at a bench where people could catch buses from Somewhere to Elsewhere. He sat, shrugged his small pack from his back, took from it a sandwich he had made himself another condition and a confetti-colored gas-station road map. He wasn't sure if the map were forbidden by the conditions, but the directions he'd been given to get to Edgewood weren't explicit, and he opened it.
Now. This blue line was apparently the cracked macadam lined with untenanted brick factories he had been walking along. He turned the map so that this line ran parallel to his bench, as the road did (he wasn't much of a map reader) and found, far off to his left, the place he walked toward. The name Edgewood didn't appear, actually, but it was here somewhere, in this group of five towns marked with the legend's most insignificant bullets. So. There was a mighty double red line that went near there, proud with exits and entrances; he couldn't walk along that. A thick blue line (on the model of the vascular system, Smoky imagined all the traffic flowing south to the city on the blue lines, away on the red) ran somewhat nearer, extending corpuscular access to towns and townlets along the way. The much thinner sclerotic blue line he sat beside was tributary to this; probably commerce had moved there, Tool Town, Food City, Furniture World, Carpet Village. Well... But there was also, almost indistinguishable, a narrow black line he could take soon instead. He thought at first that it led nowhere, but no, it went on, faltering, seeming at first almost forgotten by the mapmaker in the ganglia, but then growing clearer in the northward emptiness, and coming very near a town Smoky knew to be near Edgewood.
That one, then. It seemed a walker's road.
After measuring with his thumb and finger the distance on the map he had come, and how far he had to go (much farther), he slung on his pack, tilted his hat against the sun, and went on.
A Long Drink of Water
She was not much in his mind as he walked, though for sure she hadn't been far from it often in the last nearly two years he had loved her; the room he had met her in was one he looked into with the mind's eye often, sometimes with the trepidation he had felt then, but often nowadays with a grateful happiness; looked in to see George Mouse showing him from afar a glass, a pipe, and his two tall cousins: she, and her shy sister behind her.
It was in the Mouse townhouse, last tenanted house on the block, in the library on the third floor, the one whose mullioned windows were patched with cardboard and whose dark rug was worn white in pathways between door, bar and windows. It was that very room.
She was tall.
She was nearly six feet tall, which was several inches taller than Smoky; her sister, just turned fourteen, was as tall as he. Their party dresses were short, and glittered, hers red, her sister's white; their long, long stockings glistened. What was odd was that tall as they were they were shy, especially the younger, who smiled but wouldn't take Smoky's hand, only turned away further behind her sister.
Delicate giantesses. The older glanced toward George as he made debonair introductions. Her smile was tentative. Her hair was red-gold and curly-fine. Her name, George said, was Daily Alice.
He took her hand, looking up. "A long drink of water," he said, and she began to laugh. Her sister laughed too, and George Mouse bent down and slapped his knee. Smoky, not knowing why the old chestnut should be so funny, looked from one to another with a seraphic idiot's grin, his hand unrelinquished.
It was the happiest moment of his life.
It had not been, until he met Daily Alice Drinkwater in the library of the Mouse townhouse, a life particularly charged with happiness; but it happened to be a life suited just right for the courtship he then set out on. He was the only child of his father's second marriage, and was...Little, Big. Copyright © by John Crowley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.