Before approaching In the Little World, readers should understand that "midget" is considered an offensive word, and that "dwarfs" and "little people" are the generally acceptable terms used to designate adults whose height is 4 feet, 10 inches or less. Journalist John H. Richardson's bluntly honest exploration of a society unfamiliar to most of us is sure to intrigue readers.
Richardson attended a Little People of America convention to gather material for an Esquire article a piece that laid the foundation for this book. A veteran convention-goer told him about first-time registrants. Some midgets, he says, "adapt to the tall world to the point where they almost forget they're small, and they don't want anything to remind them. And when they see other dwarfs for the first time, especially in large numbers like these, they just plain freak out. They see the big butts and big heads and little arms and little legs and it hits them like a truck: Do I look like that? A lot of times, they walk right out the door and never come back."
Richardson skillfully illuminates struggles like these in greater depth. He does more than transcribe the feelings of little people, which range from "I don't understand why I'm a dwarf; it isn't fair" to the insistence of others who say they would refuse any magic cure because being short is "who they are." Those sentiments are merely the starting point, as Richardson goes on to probe their minds and to debate with them about the medical, social and ethical concerns surrounding them. Far from an accumulation of variations on the common "big-heart-in-a-small-body" theme, In the Little World grapples with the type of gut issues inherent in the recollection of one little person: "My grandmother once said to me, I've got a good idea for you. You could stay home and be a typist. That way nobody will see you.'"
Richardson, whose work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, New York, GQ and Premiere, pays special attention to Jocelyn Powell, whose dwarfism is characterized not uniquely by critical physical problems requiring a long series of painful operations. This teenager's courage, resiliency and self-possession traits shared by others in her world will certainly make readers look up to her and many of her colleagues.
Alan Prince of Deerfield Beach, Florida, is an ex-newsman and college lecturer.