Friday, July 09, 2010

Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)

I bought this copy of Giant by Edna Ferber (1952) about a year ago when I was up in Madison, Wisconsin for the wedding celebration of a year. It may seem odd to have purchased a novel all about Texas in a state about as far from Texas as you can get, but Ferber herself was born in Michigan and raised in the lovely city of Appleton, Wisconsin, so it is actually quite appropriate.

Giant is the story of Bick Benedict, the head of the Benedict Ranch, one of the largest and most prosperous in Texas. After the first World War, while doing business in Washington, he stops in Virginia to see a man about a horse. He comes back to Texas not only with the horse, but also with the man's lovely and outspoken daughter Leslie. Bick and Leslie are about as different as 1920s Virginia and Texas, but they are passionately in love and Leslie makes plenty of sacrifices to make their family work. Things aren't made any easier by Jett Rink, a crude and outspoken ranch hand who pretty awesomely crosses Bick and becomes a lifelong enemy of the family at the same time that he strikes it rich in oil.

Giant encompasses the story of the Benedict family and their friends and neighbors, but it also gives the reader a series of contrasts: cattle vs. oil, the old generation vs. the new one, the east cost vs. Texas, men vs. women, Mexicans vs. Anglos. Not surprisingly for Ferber (who also wrote the novel that Showboat -- one of the best musicals of all time -- was based on), racial equality and social justice are big themes in the book. While sometimes these themes are pushed at the expense of the story, the book is an interesting read as a non-Texan's view of these ranching men and women with all their quirks -- both the endearing ones and the irritating ones. Of course, maybe I liked it because I'm not from Texas either, even though I've lived here for ten years. I could see "real" Texans having some problems with the book...

I haven't ever seen the film version of Giant, the one staring James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, but I have put it high on my list. I imagine it is chock full of 1950s hugeness and melodrama, and sometimes that is just the thing I want.

1 comment:

St. Murse said...

Giant isn't a great movie, but it is a good one. Mercedes McCambridge is awesome. Why I do recommend it is the location shooting around Marfa. You'll recognize the landscape for sure.