Saturday, April 26, 2014
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
771 pages: a large book by any standard. Unfortunately, because of teaching and other duties, I rarely have time to spend a couple of weeks on a behemoth of a novel. But several friends were so insistent I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I decided during a break in grading to clear all other priorities and tackle this novel. I started on a Thursday and finished on Sunday.
This might sound silly, but I actually enjoyed holding the book and feeling the silky smooth paper. Then I got to the novel, and I was completely blown away. This is my first experience with Donna Tartt, but I can guarantee it will not be my last.
Donna Tartt was born and raised in Mississippi, but she left the south for Bennington College in Vermont in 1982. She was raised in a family of voracious readers. She told one interviewer her mother read novels while driving. While at Bennington, she began writing her first novel, The Secret History, which became a bestseller. Her second novel, The Little Friend, won the prestigious W.H. Smith Award in 2002. Tartt is a slow writer – each of novels take about 10 years from conception to publication. The Goldfinch is her third novel. The detail in this compelling novel attests to the level of work that took ten years She writes by hand on paper and note cards.
Theo Dexter lives in Manhattan with his, mother Audrey, a part-time model, actress, and artist. Theo’s father, an alcoholic with a gambling addiction abandoned the family about a year before the story begins. One day, Theo and his mother decide to stop into a museum to view some notable old masters on display. Theo spots an attractive young girl with red hair accompanied by an elderly man. He loses interest in the exhibit and begins to follow the young girl, when he is knocked to the ground by an explosion. Unhurt, Theo begins moving toward the exit now blocked. He encounters an elderly man, who has been mortally injured. He gives Theo a ring and asks him to take it to a certain address. The dying man also tells Theo to take a small painting which has fallen off the wall. This is The Goldfinch of the title. He does not see the young girl. He takes the ring to the address, and meets the elderly man’s business partner, Hobie. Together they ran an antique store. He learns that Pippa, the red headed girl, is recovering from her injuries at the home of Hobie and the elderly man, Mr. Blackwell. Meanwhile, Theo wraps the painting securely and hides it in his room. All this action occurs in about the first 50 pages.
However, I had absolutely no desire to abandon Theo, Pippa, and Hobie. Every page of this novel contains interesting characters, situations, descriptions, interior monologues of the highest order. I could not stop reading. The list of characters far exceeds the few I have mentioned here.
Janet Burroway, in her creative writing textbook, Writing Fiction, says, “every story must have a complication, crises , and resolution.” Tartt has filled this novel with a series of complications, which create one crisis after another for Theo, which he manages to resolve, through pluck, intelligence, and hard work.
Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch moves to the top of my list for the year, and perhaps the decade. I have rarely encountered a novel of such grace, beauty, heartbreak, sadness, joy, and with thrills, mysteries, and even some chilling moments sprinkled on almost every page. This novel has it all, and I could not urge my listeners more strongly to read this book as soon as possible. You will get to know Theo; you will become a part of his family; you will be forever affected by Tartt’s power as a storyteller. I have to raise my scale to 10 stars for this extraordinary novel, which I have just learned, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.