My time for reading is — regrettably — far less than I had imagined it would amount to, when I envisioned myself as an English teacher. Perhaps it would be more prudent to include the adjective leisure in that last sentence: my time for leisure reading is abysmally inadequate.
Thus, when I make reading selections for holiday vacations or the wonderfully lengthy months that are summer, I choose with caution. To read something trifling or unstimulating would be certain heartbreak. Cue my reading selection for this Christmas break: Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch.
Set in what appears to be present-day (or near-present) NYC and Nevada, the story is a beautifully composed tale of heartbreak, tragedy, the snowball effect, and the impact of (seemingly) insignificant daily choices. The novel’s protagonist and narrator, Theo Decker, also serves as his own antagonist for much of the tale. The novel starts with a very brief (2-ish page) glimpse at his current situation in life: a seedy-sounding hotel in Amsterdam, filled with booze and a ominous-sounding newspaper headlines that readers can only assume are representative of the narrator himself. Tartt (& Theo) then take readers on a journey into the mysterious character’s past, which is marked by the tragic loss of his mother. Following the death of his mother, Theo’s life assumes a trajectory not unlike a quarter that’s been inserted in one of those “coin racing” funnels found in malls and circus halls: a swift downward spiral.
The tale is addictive; I don’t wish to give anything away, here, so I’ll refrain from telling you key components of the plot. However, there are a few distinct reasons I loved this work, namely, those listed below.
- Tartt’s use of language is exquisite. Pristine. Deliberate. Her words are both concise and elaborate at the same time, her voice like a whisper of poets past. The words on the pages of this novel are the closest I’ve found in contemporary writing to the quality and luxury of those classical authors I’ve idolized so long.
- The details are all important. Authors who make great use of minute details greatly please me; this is one of the reasons I so love J.K. Rowling, and one of the reasons I found myself so enamored by Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch. The story is a circle; Theo’s experiences overlap and his acquaintances have a way of cropping up where you’d least expect. Very six-degrees-of-separation-esque.
- The tale is well-researched. Tartt demonstrates more than adequate knowledge of art history and techniques, the antique world, and even the world of drug abuse. Whether through firsthand experience or interviews with experts, Tartt manages to write on a variety of topics with confidence and ease. Though many might expect this to be a “given,” I’d argue that if an author wrote on all but one of these topics with great clarity and depth of knowledge, that lack of information on the third would be enough to destroy the credibility of the work. Bravo, Tartt, for a piece well-researched.
The novel, which I made the mistake of attempting to finish in the presence of my quite animated and boisterous family prior to Christmas dinner, poses some deep philosophical questions for the reader — an aspect of the work I perhaps loved most. Upon finishing, rather than feeling disappointed that the work was over, or contented with the main character’s outcome, my mind ruminated over the questions Tartt posed and forced reflection for several days. Most notably: Does one bad decision define a life, or its destiny? Can we make bad decisions and still be good — and vice versa?
Read the excerpt here…and then run to the nearest Barnes & Noble to pick up your own copy.