Goldfinch was the latest installment in my Indispensables subscription and was being hailed as one of the best books of 2013, so I was excited to settle down with this really LONG book! I love long books when they are good books, there is something about the heft of the book in your hands, the anticipation of discovering an entirely new world that exists only within those thin pages, dense with words and ideas.
As a young boy in New York City Theo Decker’s life is turned upside down when he survives a horrific accident that kills his mother and leaves him staying with wealthy friends while someone tries to locate family to take him in. A small valuable painting is all he has that ties him to the accident and to his mother, eventually drawing him into the criminal underworld. Along the way he goes from living with the wealthy and elite of NY to the dusty desolation of Las Vegas suburbs to dusty antique galleries to despair in Amsterdam at Christmastime. He encounters Russian gangsters, drug pushers, kindly antique furniture restorers, wealthy patrons, and master manipulators.
As Theo struggles, with life, love, and loss he is surrounded by wonderful characters. Boris, the Russian friend who goes through life fearlessly. Mrs. Barbour, the wealthy and mentally ill mother of his childhood friend. Pippa, another survivor of the accident that killed his mother, who he clings to, making her the object of his affections. And my favorite, Hobie, the slightly befuddled owner of the antique shop who quietly and constantly accepts and supports Theo.
It is a dark and gritty tale, one full of addiction and despair. But somehow it’s full of light and hope at the same time. It is obsession and regret and guilt. It is struggle and triumph. It is death and it is life.
That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.
Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publication: Little, Brown and Company, October 2013