August 14, 2014

Sorry, prize committee

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

I finally finished this book last night after losing interest a couple of months ago, then guiltily restarting about a week ago, then grumpily grinding through the last few dozen pages. It won the Pulitzer Prize. How could I not love it? I've said before I can't argue with the Pulitzer, right?

Too bad. This book wore me out. The main character, Theo, loses his mom tragically, then basically muddles through life from twelve to twenty-eight, mostly high or drunk, constantly worried about the big secret he is keeping (it, of course, has to do with the title painting), frequently hurting people either incidental or instrumental to his life. I'm sure I should see that as a "beautifully written coming-of-age novel" as the Pulitzer blurb says.

In fact, parts are beautifully or innovatively written. I highlighted lots of them: descriptions of people as an "elegant but mistreated polar bear" or "a man who moved refrigerators or loaded trucks for a living" or a "luckless, anemic, pet-shop mouse you might feed to your boa constrictor"; depictions of the area around Las Vegas, with air that "magnetized," "hot mineral emptiness," and "alkali waste"; and excellent phrases like something being "bewilderingly soft" or a room being the "Sargasso Sea of the apartment."

I just got tired of it. There's too much. Too many pills. Too much booze. Way too many words. Tartt uses writing style to show how Theo's state of mind changes, and his addled stream-of-consciousness state is never far from the surface. That kind of writing is exhausting to read, and it seems like she knows it--one of the later rants has one character twice saying that he can't see the other's point, and the other saying "stop me if I'm rambling." If only--I started skipping whole paragraphs.

Also, I think being a "coming-of-age novel" requires maturing. I'd argue that Theo just gets older, and things work out decently for him, but it's not particularly because his character evolved. Anyway, where the list in the last post was enough to justify its rating, I think these observations are enough here, prize or no. I'm done with thinking about the book, honestly.

Rating: **1/2

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