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Amber's Thoughts

Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series



A Story Lost in Itself

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

Alternately riveting and slow. The author makes everything from the horror of a bombing to the beauty of old masters’ art come alive with vivid description. I suspect she intentionally wrote the way the Dutch Masters painted, describing everything in exquisite detail, whether the scene involves antiques and elegant homes or vomit, bad breath and body odors. Sometimes it works, because a place’s appearance is essential to the mood and the plot. At other times, it reads as if she can’t decide how to describe an emotion or scene, and restates imagery in multiple ways when fewer words could say the same thing more effectively.

            Every time I was about to bail because of this excess verbiage—in the first three quarters of the book, anyway—the story picked up. Seeing the dark side of a normal seeming person, the selfishness and dishonesty, and understanding where it comes from, is thought-provoking. I never liked Theo, but I understood him.

            Author intrusions break up what could be fast paced dialog and character conflicts. Characters suddenly run on with excess description in aimless anecdotes, whether it’s Theo’s father jabbering about the baccarat dealer Diego, or the lawyer Mr. Bracegirdle reciting the story of his first meeting with Theo’s mother in one of those “you remember how I told you” pieces of unnatural dialog that beginning authors are told to avoid. Platt’s sudden burst of story-telling as soon as he meets Theo after years apart is hard to believe, since they were never close. He uses author-like phrases (“lowered barometric pressure for him was like laughing gas”) and bares his family’s soul. Boris also has one of those nobody-talks-like-that long stories as he describes living with Xandra, where he’s given an uncharacteristic idiom so the author can get the imagery in. Theo’s inner digressions of dread, fantasizing the annoying people he’ll have to meet in events around his wedding, remain in character, but they add no more to the plot. I felt as if the author was indulging in the pleasure of creating all these off-plot vignettes, perhaps like the tiny details in the background of a great painting that might have been the artist’s indulgences. In visual art this works: the viewer has the surprise of discovery. In prose, though, there is only foreground. These aspects of the story take up equal space with the main plot.

            Sudden talk of muladhara chakra and karma also felt like an author intrusion, not natural to the conversation. In the Theo’s subsequent reflection on his conversation with Pippa about the occult and fortune telling I feel the author trying to fit in a theory of chance based on Theo’s father’s ideas about gambling. My own preference is that the reader should be allowed, not forced, to have the “aha” moment when it comes to philosophical and psychological themes in a novel. By the end of this one the themes have been fully dissected and explained, leaving nothing to the reader’s own insights, and slowing the pace even further. I gradually ceased to care about either Theo or the plot. A satisfying end lost its impact in the fog surrounding it.

            Reading to the last page reminded me of the time I got lost on a run when visiting family in Maine. What started out beautiful and exhilarating became exhausting, and I just wanted to be done.