Years ago, after mentioning to a coworker how surprised I was to be enjoying a novel long in my possession but previously unread, she remarked, sagely, Every book has its time. That may explain why I’m reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch six years after it came out, a span of time nearly equal to the one she spent writing it. Interested persons likely know the plot elements–a museum bombing, young Theodore’s struggles in the aftermath to cope with with loss of his mother and sense of home and family, plus a stolen (sort of) painting–all of which is fine and good, novelistically speaking. What continually draws me into this book’s pages is the quality of the prose.
In interviews, Tartt says she works and reworks each sentence until absolutely satisfied with it before beginning the next one, and it shows. Every page lends credence to the maxim that easy reading reflects difficult writing, and I can’t imagine writers of any stripe not admiring with a degree of envy her dedication to the art.
The story moves along with an effortless if somewhat leisurely pace (a point of criticism for some), but the characters, settings, and events all have a distinct, specific and visceral quality, and a resonance far beyond even the most-engaging beach read. Perhaps my favorite thing about The Goldfinch is the way it seems to offer in a hyper-distracted age an engaging if remedial lesson in paying attention to a literary work. I offer no judgment on whether its Pulitzer Prize award was justified, but I’m sure not going to argue against it.
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