Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Sometimes fiction draws us on toward a light, and when it glows brightly, we experience delight in our mutual understanding, in shared communication between the writer, his characters, and the reader.

Sometimes fiction turns corners, spins characters 180-degrees, sending them back upon themselves and their natures as first set forth. They betray themselves and the ground rules invented by the author himself. Such character turns disappoint; we readers feel betrayed, the contract broken.
Looking Up at the Pemaquid Lighthouse Lamp 2010
Photo by Al Griffin

Sometimes fiction is one long arduous march from event to event with only the author’s posturing, pontification, rumination, and observation in between. At such times, through such works, this reader feels used--as if the author would grant me no mercy, no counterpoint, no interaction. I feel as if the young teen on trial before an elderly relative determined to share his life story for my edification while I stubbornly believe I need no edification.

Sometimes authors conceive of an epic, vast in scope and time and place. We readers travel far and beyond the horizon, glimpsing along the way human nature and truth.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a bit of all these types of fiction. Occasionally, the prose narrative delights, and the book is certainly of epic length. It begins with a catastrophic loss in the life of a preteen boy and continues until he has reached manhood. Along that continuum, the man-boy seems wise beyond his years but makes childish, self-interested choices with only the thinnest of rationales provided. Worse, much of the novel, especially the last chapters, are pontification and rumination. The author hopes to strip away the fa├žade of culture and clothes of identity to show us the raw, naked truth: the world continues to turn, life itself is more struggle than joy, happiness is often drug-induced, and bad things most certainly happen to good people while good things definitely happen for bad people. These are truths told elsewhere and better, in my opinion.

Reading Challenge:

One passage from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch, delights. Read it below:

But those sparkling blue shallows--so enticing at first glance--had not yet graded off into depths, so that sometimes I got the disconcerting sensation of wading around in knee-high waters hoping to step off into a drop-off, a place deep enough to swim.

And/or read reviews other than mine above:
  • http://therumpus.net/2013/11/the-goldfinch-by-donna-tartt-2
  • http://electricliterature.com/blog/2014/01/21/celebrity-book-review-michelle-obama-reviews-the-goldfinch-by-donna-tartt
  • http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/books/20131123-book-review-the-goldfinch-by-donna-tartt.ece
Writing Challenge:


Write a review of the prose passage above, focusing upon the style elements that make it delightful. Or, if you read Tartt’s tome, write a review of your own.