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Summer quiet offers opportunity to read 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


"You can really change someone's life by giving them the right book at the right time," author Donna Tartt observed, having accepting the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in fiction on June 28 in Las Vegas. Tartt won this Pulitzer for her suspenseful and insightful contemporary novel called, "The Goldfinch".

Carel Fabritius painting inspiring Donna Tartt novel
The Frick

Which raises the question, who might Tartt's "The Goldfinch" transform?

The lengthy novel addressed contemporaneous events many -like me- struggle to sort out:

  1. The effects of terrorism. Protagonist Theo lost his mother to the violence of terrorism at age 13. Tartt's novel addressed the effect of such a loss, expanding understanding of its impact by adding a secondary character named Pippa, who was similarly-affected. Tartt's insight into Theo and Pippa's mindsets -and grieving hearts- shaped ideas I long-remembered and contemplated. Memories of 9-11 were ever present.
  2. The effects of indifferent parenting. Following the loss of his mother, Theo was forced to relocate to Las Vegas, moving in with his inept father and girlfriend. The narcissistic pair provided a roof but little guidance for the adolescent, as he experimented with drugs and alcohol, along with nonimmigrant sidekick, Boris.
  3. The depth of loving compassion. Hobie, an elder Gandalf-like man, embodied kindness and true concern for the lost boy, welcoming Theo into his home, his business, his life, with no questions asked. When Theo risked it all, continuing his obsession with drugs, threatening Hobie's reputation by choosing unethical business practices, Hobie responded with a consistency of character I can only hope to emulate in confused relationships.
  4. The effect of art on one's soul. "The Goldfinch" painting described in Tartt's novel exists; it hangs in the Royal Picture Gallery of The Hague. It was never stolen, as the novel claimed. Yet the heartspeak of this painting informed Theo at every turn. Indeed, the power of art to change lives was a strong element within this novel: perhaps my favorite. I would like to explore this further.
  5. The meaning of friendship. Was it because of his relationship with his mother? Theo had no attachment issues! He formed lasting connections with friends like Andy and Boris and even Pippa, who all came through when required. This surprised me, considering the betrayals Theo experienced: compromised safety at the museum, loss of his mother, his father's indifference, his own inept choices, his stolen painting. In the end, the triumphant determination of a true friend opened what had been a bleak, dead end existence into one with a promise. I liked this twist a lot.

These are only five of the many explorations impacting readers of this novel- it runs well over 700 pages, 32 hours via audio. I chose these five because within each, Tartt addressed and expanded questions and wonderings I have toyed with, exploring outcomes that mattered to me in particular.

Donna Tartt has penned an exciting, sharply focused tale with fully formed characters, sure to change many lives, mine among them. I recommend this novel to mature young adults and all adults with time to spend absorbing its brilliance.

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