As you can see, as opposed to January, I read only one book. I am a fast reader so even though it’s around 800 pages, it shouldn’t have been a problem. Yet, this month was busy, and this book is unique. It feels like four books–four engrossing books–in one. It’s the story of a 13 year old boy, Theo, who has an incredible mother. In a freak terrorism attack, he loses his mother. In his stupor, after the explosion, he takes a piece of artwork with him–his mother’s favorite piece–The Goldfinch.
This is the painting in question…The Goldfinch.
The painting will follow Theo as he goes to live with a very wealthy family on Park Avenue, to Las Vegas with his deadbeat farther, and back to New York again to live with the business partner of another victim of the attack. The writing is gorgeous. Theo’s ache for his mother, his only tie to the world really is palpable and even as you know what is going to happen, it’s heartbreaking. “How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard physical longing, like a craving for air underwater. Lying awake, I tried to recall all my best memories of her–to freeze her in my mind so I wouldn’t forget her–but instead of birthdays and happy times. I kept remembering things like how a few days before she was killed she’d stopped me halfway out the door to pick a thread off my school jacket. For some reason, it was one of my clearest memories I had of her: her knitted eyebrows, the precise gesture of her reaching out to me, everything” (Tartt, 85).
It’s a hard book to put down and yet it was a hard book to keep reading. There is a sense of dread throughout the book because through it all, it just doesn’t seem like Theo will have a happy ending. Happy endings aren’t necessary in books but it just seems like Theo, again and again, is thrown into the ringer–whether it’s living with his ex-alcoholic father (is he really an ex alcoholic) who selfishly looks out for his own interests as he plays in the casino? Or even his hilarious friend Boris who introduces Theo to drugs and alcohol? There is Hobie, the lovable business partner he finds, who is a gentle soul but Theo can’t be honest with Hobie, not completely because Theo can’t be honest with himself.
For me, that was the hardest part of the book. I don’t mean it made me not want to read it. It just broke my heart, reading about him as a child and seeing his trajectory–like watching a car crash. And yet again and again, Theo makes it through by the skin of his teeth.
Through it all, it is the painting–which technically he stole, though he was concussed, totally out of it, and didn’t mean to steal it–is his touchstone, not only for his mother but all the secrets he must keep. Theo even says, near the end of the book, “Because: if our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am…A secret about a secret” (Tartt, 727).
Theo doesn’t think much of himself and I so wanted him to show the real Theo, the one his mother, to someone so that he would realize that he is good but “…Disney princess knows the answer: ‘Be yourself.’ ‘Follow your heart.’ Only here’s what I really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of heart that can’t be trusted–? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civiv responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?” (Tartt,724)
The writing is gorgeous. The length, for some, is an undertaking. And there are no clear answers here. The characters are as clear as if you know them. It’s quite the book and yet at times frustrating. Perhaps that is what good writing is. (Follow me on goodreads here.)
What have you read lately? Have you read The Goldfinch? I’m always looking for good books.
Writers are readers,