Maine author Bill Roorbach recently remarked at a public event that the publicist for his latest novel “hated it. He couldn’t boil it down.”

That’s clearly a challenge with “Life Among Giants.” Strangely, it’s one of its most alluring traits, once a reader can let go of desiring to peg it, the need to establish a compass heading for where it might go. It’s like the blind man and the elephant.

From slivers in the story setup, I wondered if the tale, set largely in Connecticut, was Cheever-esque or perhaps a WASPy “Portnoy’s Complaint.” I even thought I heard echoes of Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.”


The main character is David “Lizard” Hochmeyer, who, at 6 feet 8 inches, is the literal “giant” of the title (though there are other giant characters too). He is the star of his high school football team and later a pro in the NFL, though he seems ambivalent at times about the sport.

Roorbach drives the story like a running back: Dodging, faking, throwing feints that constantly tip the reader off balance. David is a good and decent person. At one point, he says of he and his sister Kate, “To all appearances we were a team, the clean-cut Hochmeyer kids, sharply dressed, serious students, successful money athletes, sunny smiles, good deeds.”

All that morphs with the arrival of the FBI to arrest their father for shady business dealings. The old man subsequently turns state’s evidence and is about to go into witness protection when a killer shows up and guns down him and his wife at the end of his farewell luncheon. That ends chapter one.

But I get ahead of myself. Or rather, Roorbach does, faking right, going left, and we’re back in the story of life at home with mom and dad. The move is good for long yardage.

Woven into the tale like fox burrs that can’t be shaken are the stories of Sylphide, the famous Norwegian ballerina, and her English rocker husband Dabney Stryker-Stewart. They are “the world’s own royal couple” who have castles around the world but call the mansion across the pond from the Hochmeyer’s modest residence their home.

Snared in the story weave is also that of Emily Bright, Lizard’s classmate, “also a tall person, very shy, known to be difficult angular, awkward, not everyone’s idea of beauty,” who gets voted the Anti-Homecoming Queen. Emily goes on to become a world-class ballerina under Sylphide’s tutelage.

Secrets abound from the start and grow more labyrinthine as the story follows Lizard into and out of the NFL, and into a career as a starred restaurateur. Secrets beget mysteries, such as who killed Lizard and Kate’s parents, and why; who killed Dabney Stryker-Steward, and why; why do Sylphide and Kate hate each other; what drives Sylphide’s coyness in her erotica play with Lizard; and what’s in the missing briefcase that belonged to Lizard and Kate’s father?

Although not a smooth and easy relationship, Lizard and Kate remain devoted throughout to one another, each in their own way. Kate is tormented and unstable, harsh in her assessments of others, but relentless in wanting to get to the bottom of who killed their parents. Lizard is less complicated, more straightforward and non-judgmental, bending to the serial, amorous advances of those he gratefully loves.

There’s a lot of love — and lovemaking. As well as sumptuous preparations of delicacies and meals by a rich cast of chefs whom Lizard befriends — and who in turn become devoted friends to him.

Roorbach said the story “came from a whole basket of things in my life. I did construction, dated dancers, worked in restaurants. A great cast of characters came together. How to make it all work was hard.”

“Life Among Giants” is life writ large. It’s not a book easily pigeonholed. But it tells a satisfying and very memorable tale.

Unquestionably, with skill and dexterity Roorbach does, indeed, make it all work splendidly.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize.