Fashion Book: The Goldfinch
I read The Goldfinch for my last New York book club and looking back, it seems like a fitting book, or as fitting as any, to have read in my last weeks living in New York. For one thing, I was able to see the painting that inspired the novel (above) at the Frick, one of the last things Joe and I did together. Despite that less than ideal association, I’m glad I got to see the painting in person–if you’ve read the book, you know the impact the painting has on everyone who comes into contact with it, especially Theo Decker, the protagonist. Truth be told, I wasn’t blown away by the painting, but it was affecting nonetheless. Whether I would have given it a second look if I hadn’t read the book…that’s another story, but I’m no art historian.
It famously took Donna Tartt a decade to write The Goldfinch, her third novel in almost thirty years. Reading it, one can see why–it’s a behemoth of a book, over 800 pages of lavish descriptions and intricate plot points, meticulously researched and rendered. Theo’s New York is a very different New York from my own personal New York (we all have one), but it’s convincing. When Theo is just 12 years old, he loses his mother in an explosion at the Met, where they happen to be looking at the Goldfinch painting. Estranged from his father, Theo is sent to live with the family of a wealthy classmate until his deadbeat dad shows up with his girlfriend and drags him out to Las Vegas, where they live. The Las Vegas years of the novel are as sprawling as the desert and rowdy as the Strip. Theo befriends Boris, one of the most eccentric young characters I can recall in fiction, and they proceed to drink, do a LOT of drugs, drink more, and generally fuck shit up. But the thing is, Boris is extremely likable–you can see why Theo gravitates toward him, like a moth to the light.
Theo’s most treasured possession is the Goldfinch painting itself–thrust into his hands by a dying old man on the floor of the Met amidst the post-bombing chaos. Theo, confused and disoriented, sticks it in his backpack and leaves the scene, giving him an object to obsess over for years to come. It’s this interaction with the old man that leads him to Hobie, a furniture restorer who houses Theo when he returns to New York after an upsetting event in Las Vegas.
When Theo returns to New York, the novel got a little murky for me. I wanted to like Theo, but he made it harder and harder, descending into a kind of narcissistic quest to destroy himself. It gets a little…boring after awhile.
I won’t write anymore, for fear of spoilers, but there’s a great deal to this book, most of which I liked, some of which I didn’t.
For the Fashion Book, I wanted to think about Theo’s mother. In many ways, she’s the main character in the story, though she only appears for the first 50 pages or so. What would she wear, were she alive now?