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Klavan On The Culture

Novel Review: The Goldfinch (With My Bizarre Prediction)

June 4th, 2014 - 5:27 pm

Aside from genre writers, there are only two living American novelists I think are excellent:  Tom Wolfe and Donna Tartt…  and Tartt’s actually a crime writer when you come right down to it. When the Wall Street Journal asked me to name five top psychological crime novels, I listed her powerful 1992 debut The Secret History among that elite group:

Some critics balk at its gravity and sprawl, but I love “The Secret History” for its scope of vision, its precise characterization and its beautiful prose. Richard Papen hopes to leave his working-class origins behind when he enrolls at an exclusive college in Vermont. There, he is soon accepted into an elegant clique that centers on a charismatic Classics professor. But the group’s immersion in ancient culture leads them to a moment of Bacchic ecstasy and murder. Erudite and compelling, the book is at once a riveting crime story and, I suspect, a meditation on the famous snowstorm scene in Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”: a coming-to-terms with the cornerstone of human savagery on which even the greatest civilization stands.

When her second book, The Little Friend, came out in 2002, I just couldn’t get through it. I couldn’t tell whether she was a one-hit wonder or was going through a sophomore slump.

Last year, Tartt, a slow, meticulous writer, scored the Pulitzer Prize with her third novel, The GoldfinchI just finished it. It’s wonderful, worthy of the praise. A riveting picaresque tale of a young boy orphaned in a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it follows Theo Decker into adulthood and explores the ways in which trauma can define a life. The prose is beautiful; the scenes so vivid you feel like you’re there; and the characters at once brilliantly original and strangely recognizable. What a talent she is.

Conservatives be warned: there’s one idiotic sentence that attributes the terrorist attack to right wingers. As if. In real life, only Muslims would have done such a thing. I don’t know whether this is a flaw of political correctness or whether Tartt’s imagination has been polluted by the leftist literary world. Anyway, it’s one sentence: it bugged me, but it doesn’t affect the story.

Now. Here’s a bet I want to make, a prediction I want to get down on paper so I can refer back to it and say I told you so. As wonderful as Tartt’s novels can be, I do not believe she will write her masterpiece until she finds Christ. That’s an arrogant and terrible thing to say in some ways. I don’t know anything about the woman’s religious life. Maybe she’s already a Christian. More probably, if anyone made this prediction to her face, she’d laugh it off or hit the roof. But let’s wait and see. I certainly don’t believe great writers have to be Christians! That would be nuts. But I do believe some people see the moral world in such a way (clearly, in my opinion) that only Christ can, so to speak, touch the match to the gunpowder.

As I say, we’ll see. But in the meantime, The Goldfinch is a deep and fascinating read.

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It is a bizarre suggestion since Donna Tartt is a Catholic convert and one who has thought a lot about what her faith requires of her as a novelist. Here is a description of her latest novel with a few quotes from an essay she's written titled "The Spirit and Writing in a Secular World," published in *The Novel, Spirituality, and Modern Culture*:
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read this. It was interesting but didn't leave me wanting to read anything else she has written or will write. Much like most modern fiction, it is lacking that indefinable "something" that makes dedicating oneself to the reading of a novel a worthy endeavor.

She also managed to deride and disdain homeschoolers, so her worldview is probably what leaves her work wanting.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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