The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
For over a decade, the literary world has awaited this most recent novel by celebrated author Donna Tartt, a book that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014. The Goldfinch is Theo Decker’s coming-of-age story; it is sprawling and rich (some would say “Dickensian”). Theo is a 13-year-old boy who adores his spirited, beautiful mother. Killing time before their scheduled meeting with the school administrator for disciplinary action, he and his mother visit the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan to view an exhibit of Dutch Masterworks, including the famous painting by Carel Fabritius called The Goldfinch.
Instead of focusing on the paintings, Theo’s eye catches a red-headed girl escorted by an elderly gentleman, and he falls in love at first sight. But, then, a bomb explodes in the museum: Theo’s world shatters, and tragedy strikes. Dramatically, the elderly gentleman, Welty, speaks final enigmatic words to Theo and gives him a signet ring – a family heirloom. Believing Welty is ominously pointing at The Goldfinch, Theo grabs the painting in his flustered escape. The consequences of this event shape Theo’s life.
The Goldfinch features memorable characters: Pippa, the sweet and sickly red-head girl and Theo’s love interest (what does she really want?); Welty’s partner Hobie, the honest and hardworking antiques restorer, who lacks good business sense; the wealthy Barbour family, which takes in Theo after the museum tragedy; Larry Decker, Theo’s deadbeat, gambling dad and his girlfriend Xandra; and Boris, a cosmopolitan son of a Ukrainian émigré, who is Theo’s best friend and fellow mischief maker.
The novel’s point of view is the first person, with Theo speaking in retrospect; his feelings of loneliness and despair are palpable. After his traumatic experiences, he engages a new comrade Boris and together they spend their days living a rather depraved life, involving the regular sins. Then, near the end, Theo reaches maturity, and comes to terms with his life. We all have wise teachers who tell us to “follow your heart” and “be true to yourself.” Theo asks, “what if you have a heart that can’t be trusted? What if your heart only wants people and things that are not good for you?” And the bigger question: “can a greater good come from a series of bad decisions and bad actions?”
The comparison to Dickens is apt – there is an Oliver Twist sense about The Goldfinch – an abandoned young boy who befriends an Artful Dodger type character, who is good-hearted, yet streetwise and shifty. In the end, Theo redeems his life and relationships by undoing what can be undone of his past mistakes. For the universal questions this book puts, the reader will find important lessons from Theo’s experience.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “Take Five” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, May 4, discussing The Goldfinch. Join the monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, May 4 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for refreshments, snacks, camaraderie, and discussion; of course, everyone is welcome.