BWW Reviews: THE GOLDFINCH Shows That Length Does Not Always Mean Depth
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, A Secret History, literature, books, book releases, book reviews, NYC
A mysterious bomb attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art kills the mother of 13-year-old Theo Decker, setting off a grievous dislocation, both physical and emotional, that lasts throughout his adolescence and young adulthood. Moving from his New York Apartment to a downtown curiosity shop, to a friend's apartment on Park Avenue, and his deadbeat father's Las Vegas hangout, Theo's displaced life is anchored by two things: his love for a young girl also affected by the blast, and his mother's favorite painting plucked off the museum walls in the bomb aftermath.
And that's just the first 400 pages.
The anticipation surrounding Donna Tartt's latest novel, THE GOLDFINCH has been overwhelming, yet understandable, given that Tartt's fans have to wait a decade in between new releases (she has released three books in the past two decades). Her first book, A Secret History, was released in 1992 and experienced immense success. Like THE GOLDFINCH, A Secret History also features an isolated young man who falls into the wrong crowd. Together, they take their obsession with art to extreme, ultimately violent levels of pursuit. In the case of History, the group performs Dionysian rituals in the forests. Theo's affinity for art places him at the center of a criminal underworld, dealing art. And drugs. Or something.
My feeling while reading both books this past year (Tartt's first and her latest) was that there were so many lost opportunities to create truly nuanced and emotional stories. The first chapters of both novels are presented in retrospect by first-person narrators. Richard Pappen reflects on the ephemeral memory of an act of murder. Theo Decker reveals his paranoid state of mind while hiding from his past in Amsterdam. Both narrators, clearly dealing with incredibly complex feelings of guilt and confusion while also having entirely subjective, unreliable viewpoints in the crimes, provide an author with the opportunity to blur some lines, to write in a style and manner that refuses to present facts from an objective frame. However, Tartt's books are full of objective detail, of straight retelling. There is very little unique about her narrators' voices.