The Goldfinch

E-Readers were made for books like The Goldfinch – in hardback, it’s simply too heavy to hold. By the time I reached page 550 or so, I had decided it was also too big to finish. Unless you are willing to read tens of thousands of tres, tres literary prose. Unless you want to learn how to fake a Duncan Fife chair. Unless you want to experience and re-experience and again experience what it’s like to get high on everything from glue through Percocet, Vicodin and cocaine….

I stuck it out to the very end because after all the hype, I didn’t want to believe that the most impressive thing about The Goldfinch  was its length.

For about five hundred pages, I enjoyed The Goldfinch . The detail is rich, the dialogue is punchy, the situations fresh. Donna Tartt can be a terrific storyteller. She throws dozens of literary balls into the air and I kept reading to find out where they would fall.

The first 200 pages – in which Theo and his mother are caught in a terrorist attack at the MOMA and Theo is fostered by the idiosyncratic and monumentally wealthy Barbour family, and finally holed up with Hobie, the antique dealer, a lovely old man with countless stories to tell – these pages are joyously baroque.

Somewhere around page 250, Theo is spirited away from New York by his gambling, ne’er-do-well father and drug dealing wife Xandra, and settles into luxurious neglect in an overpriced and mostly empty Las Vegas housing development, where he meets Boris, son of a Russian mining engineer, has a run-in with the mob, and ingests drugs pretty much 24/7.In this section there are a few too many scenes of vomiting in the swimming pool and living room, but still the manic antics of Theo and Boris are entertaining, more balls of character and story tossed into the air. I read on, trusting that Donna Tartt would bring them back down to earth. It would all matter in the end. Just when I’d had enough of Vegas, Tartt put Theo and the dog, Popper, on a bus going back to New York. Did I mention that all this time Theo has been hauling around a masterpiece from MOMA called “The Goldfinch?”

Near page 350, Theo returns to New York and Hobie’s antique shop where no one seems to notice or care that he’s a total addict and increasingly dishonest. It was about this time that I realized that all those deliciously tantalizing balls might never come down to earth. The Goldfinch might be about nothing much except one thing happening after another and then another and then another. And drugs. There is something almost obsessive about the drug details in The Goldfinch .

The book ends with Theo in a shoot-out with international thugs, a lot of really cold weather, more drugs, and about fifty pages of philosophizing on the nature of art and love and beauty. It might have been profound, but by that time I was reading fast to get to the end.

To paraphrase a critic of Mozart: Too many words!

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