Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is stunning. Not since reading Infinite Jest have I been so extremely focused on every sentence of a long, long book. Donna Tartt’s and David Foster Wallace’s grand opuses have some superficial things in common, like recurring themes of addiction, parental negligence, and deeply troubled young men. But it’s the velocity and force of their language and the masterful way both writers weaved their intricate, intelligent, and consistently fascinating tales together that struck me. While Infinite Jest strikes a philosophical, even existential chord, The Goldfinch reads more straightforwardly. Tartt’s ability to create complexity within this simpler fictional paradigm is her greatest strength.
The Goldfinch is a twisty book about one boy, Theo Decker, who grows into a man. The growing is painful and stunted for many reasons, the two biggest of which are the death of his mother in a terrorist attack, and the dubious morals of his father. Theo’s life is maze of overcoming internal and external demons, and Tartt has rendered his becoming in an almost ghostly way. Ingeniously, logically, every action Theo takes reverberates through every aspect of his life, and even though, as in real life, circumstances can feel coincidental, every event is the culmination of the experience that precedes it. Theo’s friendships, deep and immersive, shape who he becomes, as throughout his violence-fraught life he thirsts for companionship and someone to influence him. His mother’s death leaves him in a vacuum, and he fills it first with quixotic male bonding, then with drugs, and then with an obsession with a girl who experiences loss that mirrors his own. But one thing that continues to loom over him is his fear of being discovered, as the thief he accidentally became, the furtive lover, the drug addict, and the fraud.
The Goldfinch impressively straddles many types of book (thriller, bildungsroman, to name two) and anticipating Theo conquering his fears is the connective tissue that brings all of the disparate parts of the novel together. Throughout the trauma, the intrigue, and the loss, Tartt’s language inspires a deep optimism, hope that Theo will thrive and heal. Reading The Goldfinch, even though it’s long, a doorstop book, was easy because of this fusion, a deep perception of disturbance spurred by surety of impending redemption.
Tartt’s language, ambition, and empathy all shine exceedingly throughout The Goldfinch.