The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Development of a Criminal…The Development of a Good Man?
What a fascinating psychological study! This epic story begins when Theo Decker is 13 years old and ends when he’s twice that age. Wow, does the author torture him in this story. What does not kill us, makes us stronger? I’m not so sure that’s true in this case. Tragic events weaken Theo and it’s unclear if he will ever regain his strength.
Theo lives with his mother in New York City after his alcoholic father abandoned them. His beautiful, fun mother has to take him to a late morning disciplinary meeting at school, so they stop in an art museum on the way. Then a terrorist’s bomb explodes. The blast rips Theo’s life apart when it kills his mother. In the ensuing surreal melee, a dying man insists Theo take “The Goldfinch”: a famous painting.
The painting haunts Theo for the rest of the story just like the story has haunted me.
The characterization is raw, real, and detailed, and the author made me care deeply for Theo. Every time he suffers a post-traumatic symptom, I wanted to hug him. Every time he veers into drug use, I wanted to smack his neglectful father. Here’s a vivid description of Las Vegas Dad, who has shifted from abusing booze to pills:
From his genial cursing, his infrequent shaving, the relaxed way he talked around the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, it was almost as if he were playing a character: some cool guy from a fifties noir or maybe Ocean’s Eleven, a lazy, sated gangster with not much to lose.
Thank goodness for quality mentors like furniture-restorer Hobie, who is connected to the dying man from the museum.
Theo’s Ukranian friend Boris is simultaneously endearing and infuriating. Boris is the saving grace to a lonely boy, and the loving shove to a boy perched on the precipice of a deviant, criminal life. I freaking love how Boris nicknames Popper the dog “Popchik”.
The writing is exquisite. I dog-eared so many pages with impressive passages, like these:
Tormented by what was happening, yet unable to stop it, I hovered around and watched the apartment vanishing piece by piece, like a bee watching its hive being destroyed.
When I got off the phone, I felt sick — like someone had just reached a hand in my chest and wrenched loose a lot of ugly wet stuff around my heart.
Spring in New York was always a poisoned time for me, a seasonal echo of my mother’s death blowing in with the daffodils, budding trees and blood splashes, a thin spray of hallucination and horror. (What a vivid description of PTSD)
My moods were a slingshot; after being locked-down and anesthetized for years my heart was zinging and slamming itself around like a bee under a glass, everything bright, sharp, confusing, wrong — but it was clear pain as opposed to the dull misery that had plagued me for years under the drugs like a rotten tooth, the sick dirty ache of something spoiled.
Speaking of pain, Theo pines for a girl who also survived the museum bomb: Pippa. But she doesn’t seem to requite his love.
“Well, girls always love assholes,” said Platt, not bothering to dispute this.
No, I thought bleakly, untrue. Else why didn’t Pippa love me?
Aww, Theo. You are quite lovable!
One of the reasons I became so involved in the characters is the impressive length of the book: 770 pages. Unlike some readers, I didn’t find the story unfocused, though the end did drag just a little. I’m glad I invested the time to read this moving drama.
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