The Goldfinch follows the extraordinarily tragic story of Theo Decker, who, at the age of 13, is living an ordinary life in New York City with his mother until fate places the two of them in the way of a bomb at the world famous Met. Theo is lucky to survive and in the aftermath of the bomb takes a priceless painting by an old Dutch master with him as he stumbles out of the museum. His mother perishes and he is taken in by a friend's high-society family, but just as life begins to sort itself out again, his deadbeat Dad arrives in New York to take Theo home to Las Vegas. In Vegas, Theo makes friends with a young Russian named Boris; the two of them get lost in a haze of drugs and alcohol, helping Theo to escape the feeling that his life is heading in the wrong direction. Years later back in New York, Theo lives within the dark, dusty world of antiques, and though from an outsider's perspective he is successful and living a life worthy of envy, that morning at the museum stays with him in more ways than one. The painting, so small and unassuming, has such a strong hold over him that he's forced to follow it into the world of underground art, where his former risk-taking is laughable in the face of new dangers.
I had been anticipating reading this book for such a long time that I actually felt some trepidation upon starting it. What I can say for sure is this: The Goldfinch pulled me in as only great books do. I read it nonstop for about 5 days, right through to the end (it's a whopping 771 pages). Tartt is a master of creating characters, each had their own perfectly crafted voice, background, and personality; as I was reading it occurred to me that she must have spent an inordinate amount of time observing other people in order to be able to portray such realness in her characters. My one big criticism of the story is that at times, it felt as though Tartt may have gone off on metaphorical, long-winded tangents just for the sake of beautiful writing, not because the details were necessary to the story. In that way, the story could feel a little manic and didn't appeal to me. Though I had originally picked up this story because I thought it belonged to the art fiction sub-genre, little of the story actually focused on the artwork itself, as it was more of a thread that carried through the character's lives, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for the art aspects of it. Definitely a good read to tackle this summer, and maybe even a great discussion piece for an ambitious book club!
Bottom Line Rating: 5/5
Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2013
Price: $16.94 (on Amazon)
Book #22 of 2014