I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt a few months ago, and quickly lost interest . The main character, Theo, seemed to be a young man with a shaky moral compass and a dose of affluenza. The mother was distracted and slightly self-absorbed. Imminent death loomed just ahead. The plot was unpacking in a dubious manner since I (the reader) was told by Theo right off the bat that things weren’t going to go well. Ugh. It was tax time, and I couldn’t continue.
Still, the Pulitzer Prize isn’t something to sneer at. Perhaps, I thought, happier now that I had the taxes filed, the refund into the bank, the landscaping in the yard done, and a major quilting project out of the way, I should give it another try…
Well, I had to push through parts of the book, but the moment arrived where I was captured by the text and story. I found myself consumed and engaged in endless reflection about Theo and the other people in the book. I recalled with great sadness the many children living in crisis that I have known during my teaching years. I finished the book last week in a marathon session that occupied my waking hours until I reached the last page during an apocalyptic thunderstorm. Itching with nerves, racing to secure my animals and batten down the house in a lightening-fired downpour, I continued to ponder WHAT WAS THE BOOK REALLY ABOUT?
Well, that’s a good question, isn’t it! I have spent the last week thinking and thinking about this book. I have gone online to learn about the painting “The Goldfinch”. I have re-read parts of the book. I have searched for meanings and patterns. As I drove around town this week (avoiding thunderstorms!) I have considered the importance of stable adults in young lives, the failures of adults who we think are the safety net for children in need, the lengths some people will go to maintaining “appearances”, the search for meaning in an impersonal tragedy with crushing lifelong impact, and whether a young man named Boris should be considered a human superstorm. Then there is the goldfinch; forever chained to its little perch in an artistic display with extraordinary detail. The survivor of an explosion, a transitional piece in art history, displayed against an empty wall…
Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it possible that seemingly random events can redirect our lives if we pay attention to what is happening around us and we search for patterns? Theo is tortured by this in the book, and in the passing of pages we begin to suspect that Theo can find the safe path again; a chance encounter at the moment of the greatest tragedy in his life will ultimately bring him home.
This is The Goldfinch. It is a book of lasting impact that will continue to unpack in layers in the days and weeks after you have read it. It makes you think about tragedy, craftsmanship, redemption, and art.
You might even find yourself buying a print of the painting.