Not quite a spooky Halloween book, but Getting Huge by John Young is most definitely a story best read in October because it’s all about growing a massive pumpkin. It’s the opposite of a scary book, it centers on a reverend having a mid-life crisis. Not quite funny, but definitely not too serious, I enjoyed the storyline even if I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes at the insufferable protagonist. The religious and non-religious alike will find things to relate to in this book, and all those pumpkin-spice-aficionados will love it, if only for the basking reverence it pays to the giant orange gourd.
Reverend John Crackstone is growing tired of his life. The church he leads is a prestigious position handed down to him by his father, the previous reverend, who was beloved by all the congregants. Because of this John is constantly being compared to his predecessor and never measuring up. Even worse, the deacons of this church are made up of entitled, middle-aged affluent men who don’t take kindly to changes of any kind, so John is unable to actually influence any positive change in this wealthy community who are focused only on improving their own stations in life. John’s wife Nancy seems to be drifting away as well; her moods are unpredictable (to him) so he’s found himself obsessed with his attractive neighbor Carol. Lusting after another man’s wife isn’t a good look for anybody, especially someone who is meant to act as a moral compass for the whole community! In an effort to make some extra money and find some distinguishing amount of success John takes to growing giant pumpkins in his backyard. He’s sure that he will be able to grow a pumpkin so large it beats a world record, and then sell its seeds for profit. When he reunites with his rich friend Jack, together they come up with a scheme to build a pumpkin-growing business that they have projected as a huge money-maker, while John’s actual job begins to take a back seat to his farming dreams. Disappointment seems inevitable, for many different reasons.
My review of this book (and subsequent annoyance with the protagonist) is firmly rooted in the fact that I’m a woman, and this is a book about a man, from a man’s perspective. A clueless man. His confusion around his wife enraged me because it was so obvious to anyone with a brain why she was acting the way she did, and John’s silly infatuation with Carole is such a naive cliche that I hope the author realized we were all in on the joke. The reader follows John deeper into his delusions regarding both the pumpkins and Carol, cringing along with his obvious fantasies:
“There at the sink stood a middle-aged woman, wearing baggy, old-man pajamas, her short hair mussed in all directions. My wife. She held a plain-white coffee mug. In a flash, my imagination pictured Carol in her kitchen, wearing an ivory teddy perhaps, or maybe she’d already be in her shiny white Lycra shorts and sports bra, preparing to hit the gym…”-p.134 of Getting Huge by John Young
My eyes rolled so far back into my head, I had a headache, But this foolishness of John’s is the theme, as his delusions regarding this potential pumpkin business is just as silly and unlikely. And it is his wife (surprise surprise) that points out these obvious flaws with the business plan. Still, she loves John and wants to support him, so she voices her concerns, but vows to support him if this is what he truly wants to do. She may not be a reverend like her husband, but Nancy is the true saint in this novel.
This book doesn’t take a hard line on either of side of the religious or non-religious. It’s a fairly balanced view of Christianity, pointing out its hypocrisies along with its benefits. Just like people, there are good and bad in every flock. John’s father’s belief that the people in this specific congregation are more important than others is a distasteful view, but it’s not one that’s supported by this book, and John’s admirable intentions to make lasting change for those who need it most always act as a beacon to help steer him straight again. Even though I was annoyed by John, I appreciated the fact that we saw how fallible he was, especially in his position of power.
If the sound of John’s dreams already annoys you I don’t recommend reading this book, but it’s a really honest look at a marriage and life that’s wavering, which I did find interesting. Pumpkin love is not a requirement, but definitely a benefit in giving this one a try.