Monthly Archives: April 2015

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

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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.

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“The Profound Art of Omens” by M.E. Nyberg

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The Profound Art of Omens  by M.E. Nyberg

“The Profound Art of Omens” by M.E. Nyberg introduces us to a mysterious and inconspicuous company of Karras and Corbeau: Investigators of the Strange and Occult.  Their clientele include “the extremely rich to the desperately poor, the atheist to some of the highest ranking members of the Church, kings and queens – Western and Oriental – literally all members of society whose sudden, or chronic , foray into the inexorable and mysterious, demand a deferential and discreet effort of resolve.”  Our narrator is the business manager of the firm and through him travel the world investigating strange and inexplicable events.

Each of the five chapters stands alone as an episode in the series of investigations – in each, the author presents a separate mysterious case the firm is hired to solve.  So, each chapter has a natural “situation – suspense – resolution” formula that fully engages the reader.  The first tale is told in a letter from Anton Corbeau to his partner Lucien Karras.  It is the strange story of Corbeau and his connection with the Loup Garou (werewolf), which took place long ago in a hamlet near Bourges, France.    In the second story, we are introduced to a new colleague – the enigmatic Emerald Montaigne-Eisenswartz – as they encounter a Vampire in Brassac, a town in the south of France.  The third story is told by Karras over beers in a pub.  He narrates a previous account of a haunted mansion in Kingsbridge, England – one that had an eye in a keyhole – an actual one that looked back at you.  The next chapter takes place in Japan, where our narrator relieved himself in a cemetery, causing grave – uh, sinister – consequences.  The fifth and final chapter sizzles with a story about the remains of a burning man found in a San Francisco apartment.

The book is written by author Mitch Nyberg, whose background and professional career is in the cinematic arts.  He studied film with August Coppola in San Francisco and worked seventeen years in the entertainment industry in California.  He now teaches film at Baker College in Muskegon.

The book is cinematic in nature – the attention to detail of place brings the scenes alive.  The author weaves his own travel experiences into the stories lighting them up with interest and intrigue.  One can actually imagine a TV series about the company of Karras and Corbeu:  Investigators of the Strange and Occult.

I do not usually delve into this genre, instead attracted more to “realistic” fiction.  However, having the logical, skeptical narrator looking with us from the outside in makes each situation more believable and real.

Tune in to WZZM Channel 13 Take Five morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, April 6, when Mitch joins Bryan in the monthly TV Book Club.   Also, everyone is welcome to join TBNJS’ monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, April 6 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for camaraderie, food and drink, and discussion.

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