I am on vacation this week and rereading my favorite book of 2014: Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Please, for the love of all things good, promise me you'll read it someday soon.
It is the story of kid named Theo who goes to a museum with his mother to see her favorite painting, Goldfinch. There is a bombing, his mother is killed, and somehow, he emerges from the wreckage with the painting. A nutty premise but consider the photo below of a terrorist bombing of the Islamic Art Center in Cairo, Egypt one year ago. Nothing in this book is a stretch.
Here is a list of 10 reasons why you might love the book too.
1. The protagonist, Theo Decker, will make you love him. And then he will break your heart with his bad decisions. He is juggling so many flaming atomic balls that you'll feel like you've got a ringside seat at Cirque de Soleil. Be warned though that some people, like my sister, get very upset about Theo's crazy dysfunctional life. But my sister is above all, a mother. Which is the one thing missing in this book. Maybe Disney would be interested in optioning the story.
2. Xandra, Theo's stepmother, with her fantastic body, her copper skin, and her propensity for coke and Juicy Fruit gum. She is one of a whole host of unforgettable secondary characters who inhabit this book. Tartt has been compared to Charles Dickens in this regard. Sorry, Charles, I think Tartt's characterizations are much richer than yours. As a test, imagine a chick fight between Xandra and Miss Havisham. Xandra and her well manicured nails would take out Miss Havisham in one fell swoop. She is such an interesting character that during this vacation, my friends can't stop talking about who should play her in the movie. Tea Leoni? Kate Hudson? Sheryl Crow?
3. The settings become characters too. What does that mean exactly? It means that the book will unfold in your brain the way a film does. Visually.
4. There's lots of cool bits about the antique trade, "a wilderness of gilt", as described by Tartt. She takes us into the realm of inflated prices, shady dealers, epoxy glue, and bamboozled buyers. Same with the art world and how crooked it can be. Tartt exposes the underbelly and it's uglier than Damien Hirst's "Cow Head Covered in Flies".
5. Tartt is a wordsmith extraordinaire. A virtuoso of the paragraph. Why use only one metaphor when four or five absolutely perfect ones are at hand? Some people found her skill to be tiresome. Yeah right, like getting bored watching Roger Federer serve.
6. Who doesn't love a coming-of-age story? In this one, the boy never manages to grow up, which is so very 21st century, arrested development and all.
7. That cover! It was designed by Little, Brown's in-house art director, Keith Hayes, and what a clever piece of symbolism: the ripped paper revealing a hidden masterpiece, the crayon scrawled title. All hints at themes found inside.
8. It took Ms. Tartt ten years to write the novel. Imagine 520 Monday mornings tackling the same job.
9. Tartt was a member of my sorority at Ole Miss. She was never very comfortable with her greekness. In fact, here is the story of the Kappa "Sunshine Box" which members would fill with happy quotes that were read aloud. Tartt wrote quotes by Nietzsche like "God is dead. And we have killed him." And Sartre: "Hell is other people." For this, I love her.
10. One final reason: this is a story of love lost. I've never read such searing descriptions of grief and the state of mind it creates. This is what happens after 9-11. This is the aftermath of the random car accident. Theo Decker was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that seminal moment skins him alive but leaves him exposed to beauty we can only imagine.
“It happened in New York, April 10th, nineteen years ago. Even my hand balks at the date. I had to push to write it down, just to keep the pen moving on the paper. It used to be a perfectly ordinary day, but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail.”