Friday, October 25, 2013

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

If you read but one book this year let it be The Goldfinch, seven years in the writing and well worth every day of waiting for the incomparable pleasure it brings.   Donna Tartt’s prose sings, dances, makes you smile and breaks your heart.  Each word is carefully chosen, so perfect in placement that it is as if a master craftsman had set it there.    And why not?  Tartt is a master craftsman creating fully drawn characters and revealed to us in all of their complexities.  We not only see them but share their ruminations as they reveal their thoughts on life, love and the power of art.

At heart this is the story of New Yorker Theodore Decker and The Goldfinch, a painting by Dutch master Carel Fabritius.  We meet Theodore or Theo at the age of 13 when he and his beloved mother take shelter from a rainstorm in a museum.  His mother means everything to Theo and when she is killed in a horrific explosion at the museum he realizes “...the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her.”  For him that is so true.  Somehow he manages to escape the carnage physically sound but psychologically damaged.  He takes with him the Fabritius painting, an object that becomes as necessary to him as breath.  But how can he keep it when eventually the world will be looking for the masterpieces lost in tragedy?

Initially Theo returns to the apartment that he shared with his mother sure that she will return.  But once convinced that she is dead he ricochets from place to place, steps ahead of the social service workers.  His father deserted the family years ago, and he is alone.  Theo finds a temporary home with a wealthy family on the Upper East Side, the Barbours, whose son Andy had been a playmate of Theo’s  years before.   Then, quite suddenly, his father appears with Xandra, a woman as different from his mother as any woman could be, and announces that they are taking Theo to Las Vegas.

So begins an odyssey for the boy with thoughts of his lost mother ever near.  Readers are propelled by the narrative that carries us from Park Avenue to casinos to drug dealers’ dives to auction houses to Lower East Side bars.  Later he finds work in the antiques business where he quickly develops a talent for shady dealing.  Throughout The Goldfinch we are introduced to unforgettable characters - Hobie, a skilled craftsman with a “rough but educated voice” who befriended Theo and gave him shelter, Boris, a Ukrainian lad who introduced him to every kind of hallucinatory extant and says, “None of us ever find enough kindness in the world, do we?”

Donna Tartt has given us a rare gift that has been called a “...trenchant, defiant, engrossing and rocketing novel..”  It is that and so much more.

- Gail Cooke

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