Donna Tartt’s bestselling 771 page novel, which won the 2014 Pulitzer prize for fiction, has both supporters and detractors. The nay sayers seem to object to the abrupt change of milieu from a vibrant and colorful Manhattan full of interesting people and possibilities to a dusty uninspiring Las Vegas where the life of the main character takes a steep downward turn. The bomb that detonated in the New York museum while Theo was visiting with his mother, changed the boy’s life forever. In a matter of weeks, a bereaved and bewildered Theo is whisked from New York to the Desatoya Ranch Estates in Las Vegas, a godforsaken area, so far from the city center you can’t even get a pizza delivered. Left to his own devices, Theo makes one good friend and a lot of bad choices. The Las Vegas section
of the book is bleak, but it plays an important role in forming Theo’s character, and his friend Boris plays a pivotal part in the second half of the book.
Tartt’s descriptions conjure up clear pictures, whether she is writing about leafy Central Park or a gritty Las Vegas playground. There is sly humor in Theo’s observations both riffing on his dad’s girlfriend, Xandra, or on the elegant Mrs. Barbour, a Park Avenue socialite who takes him in for a while. He is simultaneously a clear eyed and confused boy. Tartt also brings even minor characters to vivid life — Goldie the genial doorman at the apartment house where Theo used to live or Kotku the skinny scary Las Vegas girlfriend of Boris. They parade through the pages each unmistakably themselves. The antique furniture restorer, Hobie, is the one heroic figure in the cast of characters. He,projects a warmth that points up what is lacking in so many people Theo encounters.. Hobie’s Greenwich village home becomes a welcome refuge when Theo ends up homeless for the second time.
Maybe you are wondering where The Goldfinch fits into this story. It’s a real painting by a Dutch master, Fabritius,. In realistic fashion it depicts a small tethered bird that stares directly at the viewer. The picture, which usually hangs in a museum in The Hague, has been attracting big crowds at New York’s Frick Museum thanks to Tartt’s bestselling book. She makes that painting one of the last things Theo and his mother see together and it has deep meaning for the boy.
The story takes Theo from that fateful day in the museum all the way to adulthood. As he grows and develops, he encounters again a girl he saw in the museum as well as the privileged but troubled Barbour family. He tangles with gangsters, drug addicts and thieves. The action speeds up as a grown Theo leaves New York headed for Europe on the trail of a stolen treasure .Both Theo and the reader will soon discover how dangerous this mission is.
If you’re ready for a long and engrossing read, I can recommend The Goldfinch wholeheartedly.