The Goldfinch was the 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction, deservedly so, in my humble opinion. A Bildungsroman, it’s the poignant, heart-wrenching, and, for the most part, engrossing story revolving around young, tragic Theo Decker. Most critics have likened the novel to Copperfield’s Great Expectations, which is obvious; however, I found threads of Cather In The Rye, and The Great Gatsby as well. Tartt doesn’t necessarily weave a tightly-knit story, nor a very realistic one, but she does a masterful job of eliciting sympathy and empathy for a set of not-very-likeable characters. What she does with the protagonist is build a character that the reader will empathize with and dislike all at the same time! In the first few chapters, Theo Decker comes across as a lightweight Holden Caulfield. After he comes into possession of The Goldfinch, a masterpiece work of art by Caril Fabritius, the remainder of the story revolves around his attempts to hold onto the piece of art that was his mother’s favorite and which ultimately led to her death.
We get a glance at the Barbour family, Park Avenue socialites who take Theo in after the death of his mother, putting him in a position much like Gatsby’s Nick Carroway. He witnesses with a detached view the idiosyncrasies of the wealthy; the aloof but strangely caring mother; the pampered, neurotic, passive-aggressive father; the misfit kid; the family secrets swept under the rare Aubusson rug. While with them, Theo redeems himself, then, BAM! He’s whisked off the Las Vegas with long-lost dad.
There he meets my favorite character, Boris, a worldly-beyond-his-years Ukrainian teenager, and they become fast friends. I listened to the novel on Audible, and the narrator, David Pittu, did an extraordinary job with Boris’s accent; in Pittu’s hands our Boris comes across as a stoned version of Boris Karloff (from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show). Pittu handled all of the characters and their distinctive accents quite admirably; Hobie’s calm, reassuring resonance, Mrs. Barbour’s cool society-maven unflappability, Mr. Barbour’s unhinged “Thurston Howell, III,” Xandra’s smoky sexiness.
It is a story filled with agonized people in agonizing situations brought on mostly by their own agonized decisions. Boris is a learned opportunist who has been forced to fend for himself under the worst circumstances. Theo’s dad is not-so-learned, an opportunist all the same, just not a very successful one. The characters have a depth rarely found in modern fiction, and I appreciated the author’s detail. Although the ending did not live up to my expectations, I recommended the book to several reader friends and have not heard any complaints from them.