Thursday, March 27, 2014

How the painted bird sings

Book: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Published: 2013 (Little, Brown)
Pages: 771

Apparently this is by the lady who wrote The Secret History, about a bunch of rich Harvard kids and their scandalous rich Harvard kid secrets and how they deal with them (terribly and with bodily harm to someone) which has been the subject of several trash-you-should-read lists I always look at because part of being a writer is reading the stuff that DOESN’T work and also, hello, we need badly written melodrama sometimes too.
But this wasn’t that much at all. Okay fine, Russian gangsters and lots of drugs and at least one skeezy dude was involved, but it all made fairly nuanced sense in context.
This kid Theo {} up at school so his mom has to take him to a conference and on the way they stop at the MoMA to look at the Dutch Masters exhibit and, in the only truly leap of plot in over 500 pages, a terrorist bomb explodes, setting Theo along a life of directionless sorrow without his mother, obsession with a young girl he sees flitting between the paintings, an eventual profession from her dying grandpa, and guilt at not-really-on-accident stealing a painting of a goldfinch.

He keeps the painting hidden but close throughout his move between friends and relatives as he grows up, acquiring a best friend and drug habit with Boris in Los Vegas when his dad shows up to claim him. Both of those things stick to him as he escapes back to New York and the kindly antiques dealer who was friends with the dead grandpa sets up Theo in business and home.
Eventually, he discovers a double-cross that was made in love but that he has to go fix as discreetly as possible, and that’s when the Russian mob comes in, but once that’s done, he just…moves on with life.
I really liked everything except the ending here. The characters all had intensely human motivations that sometimes screwed over the very people they were trying to protect (which was sometimes themselves), and the plot was paced well and made sense if you took its word that the stolen art world is so cutthroat. I have no idea about it in real life, so sure.
But it’s the most tapering-off ending I’ve read in a long time, and it uses that totally unnecessary framing device of the first-person narrator talking about writing this all down for no reason. Like it’s literally, “I have no idea why I’m writing this.” So don’t! You can be a first-person narrator without writing anything, not in letters or a diary or especially an unspecified document that goes nowhere. I promise.
This goes back to the library – I started out as something ridiculous like number 125 out of 125 on the holds list back in friggin’ December, so I will get in back in time to heed the there-are-way-too-many-people-who-still-want-to-read-this-to-be-able-to-renew-it rule. And I would promise to get The Secret History and read it because I’ve seen copies floating around the bookstore, but the trunk of my car is literally so full of those sorts of books that last weekend I started growing a pile on the front passenger seat.
So no more promises until I read the books that are already in my apartment. Believe it or not, if I squint superhard I can sort of maybe make out the light at the end of that tunnel. And after that? Ohboy freeforallthevolunteercredits!     

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