When thirteen year-old Theo Decker narrowly escapes a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills his mother, he takes with him a small, famous painting called The Goldfinch. As he is shuffled between the ritzy Park Avenue apartment of a family friend and his absent father’s empty Las Vegas suburb, Theo keeps The Goldfinch at his side - both a memento and a chain. Yet, when he grows up and into the practice of art restoration, Theo's connection to the painting unintentionally thrusts him into the underbelly of the art world.
Much of The Goldfinch is a fantastic journey through American culture and lifestyle. From the wealthy, overly connected families of Manhattan living in richly wooded buildings to the hollow homes of Las Vegas, separated by spaces too vast to fill with empty homes. Tartt fills each page with spotless descriptions of the people and places Theo encounters, making it simple to fall into his world and become part of his increasingly knotted life.
It is Tartt's ability to blend vibrant descriptions and brilliantly developed characters that makes her novels so compelling. What starts as a book focused on the close relationship between Theo and his mother expands to include a wide cast of characters, each with an intricate background. Yet, in the end, none of the time spent drawing these connections feels wasted; they feel like relationships built in real life.
“When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a glancing sunstruck instant that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch's ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature - fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place.”
Understandably, anecdotes on the heftiness of the text and comparisons to Tartt's classic debut, The Secret History, are high on most reviewer's lists when discussing The Goldfinch. But both seem to distract from the novel itself, as Tartt's third book has pushed her to a point worthy of deeper conversation. Ignore the name on the cover and the page numbers in the corners. Take in The Goldfinch for what it is: a breathtaking and engaging novel that combines the best of everything readers seek when we pick up a book.
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