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Sunday, May 04, 2014

THE GOLDFINCH

Let's get this straight right away:  Donna Tarrt,  born and raised in Mississippi, is this generation's Harper Lee, and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel  "The Goldfinch" deserves its place next to Lee's masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird.


                                          (Donna Taart)

We admit to dancing around the novel. At 775 pages on our Kindle, it required the type of commitment that two pending appeals and a lengthy trial stood in the way of. Woe to us should we have let such mundane considerations prevent us from prose so powerful that the last one hundred pages literally took our breath away.

The title of the book refers to a small masterpiece- a painting of a small bird discretely chained to a perch in a home- by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch master and student of Rembrandt. Fabritius painted The Goldfinch in 1654.  The painting is at the heart of- and fuels the life of- the hero of the book, Theo Decker, whom we meet in current day New York City, as he is being suspended from school. Such a small, mundane event. A school suspension. A rainstorm.  Lives changed forever.




Theo needs a protagonist for his own story (as Theo is such for The Goldfinch).  Enter Boris, who is more aptly the Id to Theo's Ego and Super Ego.  Scout and Jem Finch have arrived.  Next isHobie, who is as modest and honest as Atticus Finch and provides what ever grounding Theo can accept. And Boo Radley, who hovers over Mockingbird? Tarrt gives us Pippa, and we spend the novel wondering whether Theo's  love will ever be requited? The town folk of Scout and Jem's  are represented by Theo's father and his friends who populate, of all places, Las Vegas. 

But it is the last hundred pages that we are envious of.  Make that jealous. And in awe. 
As Stephen King's review in the NY Times pointed out, Tarrt probably spent ten years on this work. Which means, that as she sat in the NY Public Library's main branch (where she writes) sometime during year nine, she was in a zone few writers ever approach. It had taken her nine years to bring the story to this point. And now, knowing that her readers would be hanging on every word and every page, she lets loose with prose so powerful, that at times we would snap our kindle shut, frightened and breathless and in awe of a woman with such powers and talent.  And Tarrt, as was her right at this point (having earned it) writes about love, and death, and the meaning of life and good and evil and how and why a painting speaks to us across hundreds of years and the shortness of our own lives;  just merely the topics every author (yours included) aspires to address when they start a novel. And if we (as writers) are lucky, we but tangentially brush across one of those themes adequately in a lifetime of writing.  Tarrt, because she had planted so well, and is endowed with talent beyond words to describe, covers each of those themes, with exquisite power and talent. And words and sentences and phrases that, we can only say again, take your breath away. 

This is what King wrote: 
This means she labored over “The Goldfinch,” her latest novel, for at least as long. Such a prodigious investment of time and talent indicates an equally prodigious amount of ambition, but surely there must be periods of self-doubt. To write a novel this large and dense is equivalent to sailing from America to Ireland in a rowboat, a job both lonely and exhausting. Especially when there are storms. Suppose, the writer thinks (must think), this is all for nothing? What if I’m failing and don’t know it? What if I make the crossing and am greeted not with cheers but with indifference or even contempt?


King, better than we ever could, addresses the fear of the novelist. Again, we remind you that Tarrt took ten years of her life to write this novel. Think of the gamble when you read about Theo's somewhat absent father. 

King rightly reminds us of the perils of writing. But we are transfixed by the rewards. 

To walk up the steps of that great library every day; to find your spot; open your laptop; and create! The joy, the pain, the splendid isolation that only a writer can find in  such a populous, crowded place and island. Knowing the secret of doing what only you can do.  There is an indescribable joy to such moments. Joy surrounded by pain and doubt and labor so exhausting that the writer must remind herself (as Tarrt undoubtedly did) that she was doing what she loved to do, but also what she was compelled to do. Pain and pleasure, with no choice in either. 

Back to those last hundred pages. The reward. Having brought the reader so far. And all those themes, like brightly colored strands of wool, just dangling there waiting to be woven into the final garment of the novel. Life. Why? Death always wins. So why even try? Why paint? Why love when it is not returned? Why be good? Can good flow from evil? Suicide. Murder. Justice. Money. Sex. Drugs. The simple misplacement  of a passport, like the beginning pages when Theo is suspended and NYC is drenched in a rainstorm, can change a life forever. 

This, my dear readers, is A NOVEL. A Book. A work of art by a genius no less talented than Carel Fabritius was at his own craft. 
Read this book, if reading, and art, and ideas mean anything at all to you. 

Only a writer reads this book at his or her own peril, as the insignificance of their talent, compared to a master, will become so readily apparent. 

It was enough for us to almost call our editor and tell him to throw the damn draft away. 

Tomorrow the Captain writes about the death of the Limited Registry.  







6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation. It was on my list. I will move it to the top.

Anonymous said...

Its been ages since I read Tartt's "The Secret History", but I remember how warmly she dedicated it to her classmate Bret Easton Ellis -- jarring at the time because Ellis was still being personally crucified for "American Psycho".

I still think Ellis is underrated. "Glamorama" basically ushered in the first decade of millennium, with terrorism and reality TV and vacuous famous-for-being-famous celebrity demigods. What was outlandish satire then is our 9/11 Kardashian world now. Highly recommend "Glamorama". Still my favorite detail of what is also a large book: He said his first impulse was to write a book that started with the word speck and ended with the word mountain.

Anonymous said...

Just finished the book today. Couldn't agree more

Anonymous said...

Yaaaaaaaawn

Anonymous said...

You should have set up an affiliate link to Amazon on your page. I bet sales of this book just took a jump after people read this review. I just downloaded it.

Anonymous said...

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