TBR: In The Little World

Today’s book is a strange and compelling book, In The Little World (A True Story of Dwarfs, Love, and Trouble), by John Richardson.  Andrea mentioned it in passing on her blog a while back, and so when I noticed it in the buck a book racks at the Strand, I picked it up.  The book tells three overlapping stories:

  • Richardson’s visit to the Little People of America conference, the highly controversial and offensive article he wrote for Esquire about it, and the repercussions it had for the couple who were prominently featured in it.
  • Richardson’s on-again, off-again friendship with a dwarf woman he met at the conference, and how she forces him to reconsider his preconceptions about normality and abnormality.
  • How the mother of a young woman from Australia who needed a life saving operation raised the money for the operation, developed a strong support network over the internet, and tore her marriage apart.

Richardson is a very strong writer and the book is a page turner.  He absolutely refuses to be maudlin, and admits that he’s far more interested in people who are struggling with the world than the ones who are conventional successes.  And his analysis of the odd dynamics of the LPA convention, like a full year of high school poured into a week, seems perceptive to me.  Some participants find it the only time in the year where they get to be "normal," but for others, it’s shocking to be confronted with the reminder of how they look from the outside. 

Richardson is often unlikable, but he knows it, and is as harsh on himself as he is on any of his subjects.  And, while the first pages are a shocker, with references to "the classic pushed-in dwarfy look" and "big butts and big boobs," by the end of the book, if anyone is portrayed as a freak, it’s the average-sized mother of the woman from Australia.   

***

As it happens, this weekend, we ran into a friend of mine (J) who has osteogenesis imperfecta.  After we had chatted for a while, D asked me why she is "short and fat."  I took a deep breath, and explained that she has a disease that makes her bones weak, and that’s why she looks that way.  He sort of shook off my explanation and asked his real question — is she an adult?  Yes, I said.   His reaction: "Awesome."  It clearly impressed him that she’s an adult even though she’s his height, maybe smaller. 

I mentioned this to J later, and she laughed.  She told me that the other day a kid at the swimming pool asked if he could ask a question, and when she said yes, he asked whether she looked that way because she ate too much candy.  She said no, she wished it was that simple, but he should eat healthy foods anyway.  His mother was mortified, of course. 

It’s hard to know how to respond to these sorts of questions.  J doesn’t mind direct questions, but I know some people with visible differences tire of them.    But awkward whispers and "I’ll talk about it later" seems even worse.

4 Responses to “TBR: In The Little World”

  1. chip Says:

    Sounds like a fascinating book. I like that, as you put it, “Richardson is often unlikable, but he knows it.” What a great quality.
    And you’re right, this is one of those things about kids and their natural curiousity. I guess part of the problem is our own uncomfortableness around people who are different. Anyway, thanks for the tip, I’m gathering books now for our week at the lake.

  2. Andrea Says:

    FYI, if anyone’s interested, you can get the original article here:
    http://www.johnhrichardson.com/html/dwarfs_a_love_story.html
    I can definitely see how it drove a lot of people in the community crazy. And it’s interesting to contrast it to the book to see where the changes in his thinking took place.
    I think the unlikability is maybe even more than that–it seemed almost that he was forcing those perceptions on the reader in order to get them to think about their own perceptions. Descriptions that were more in line with what the reader wants or expects wouldn’t have had the effect of confronting the reader with their expectations or their thoughts on normality and difference. That’s what I got from it, anyway–I think he made himself look like a jerk so the reader would have to think about whether or not they were a jerk, too.

  3. Elevated Umbrella Says:

    Adult Lessons Through Animation

    At the end of the movie, Petunia and I had a long conversation about how people who are different often turn out to be very special, and how it’s important to be nice to everyone…I have a feeling that we will watch Dumbo many times in the future, b…

  4. pink Says:

    I picked this up for one penny, plus shipping, on Amazon–not a bad deal. I had a similar reaction to it that you did. I think I was a little more bothered about his unlikeability than you were. It’s like reading a book where the protaganist is a jerk–sometimes you want to ask, “why do I care about this story?” I found his relationship with Andrea to be quite odd–if my husband formed such a bond with a woman, I would start to question their closeness a lot earlier than his wife did–but maybe I’m more paranoid. Definitely interesting, so thanks for pointing me that way.

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