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Likely Stories: The Goldfinch

Jim McKeown
The Goldfinch reviewed on the May 1st edition of Likely Stories.

A riveting story of a series of conflicts, crises, and resolutions deftly managed by a young boy forced to grow up too quickly and too soon.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

This might sound silly, but I actually enjoyed holding The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and feeling the silky smooth paper.  Then I got to the novel, and I was completely knocked off my feet.  This is my first experience with Donna Tartt, but I can guarantee it will not be my last. 

Donna Tartt was born and raised in Mississippi, but she left the south for Bennington College in Vermont in 1982.  She was raised in a family of voracious readers, telling one interviewer her mother read novels while driving.  While at Bennington, Donna began writing her first novel, The Secret History, which became a bestseller.  Her second novel, The Little Friend, won the prestigious W.H. Smith Award.  Tartt is a slow writer – each of her stories takes about 10 years from conception to publication.  The Goldfinch is her third novel, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fivtion. 

Theo Dexter lives in Manhattan with his Mother, Audrey, a part-time model, actress, and artist.  Theo’s father, an alcoholic with a gambling addiction, abandoned the family about a year before the story begins.  One day, Theo and his mother decide to stop into a museum to view some notable paintings on display.  Theo spots an attractive young girl with red hair accompanied by an elderly man.  He loses interest in the exhibit and begins to follow the young girl, when he is knocked to the ground by an explosion.  Unhurt, Theo begins moving toward the exit now blocked.  He encounters the elderly man, who has been mortally injured.  He gives Theo a ring and asks him to take it to a certain address.  The dying man also tells Theo to take a small painting which has fallen off the wall.  This is The Goldfinch of the title.  He takes the ring to the address, and meets the elderly man’s business partner, Hobie.  Theo learns that Pippa, the red headed girl, is recovering from her injuries at the home of Hobie.  This part of the story occurs in about the first fifty pages.

However, I had absolutely no desire to abandon Theo, Pippa, and Hobie.  Every page of this novel contains interesting characters, situations, descriptions, and interior monologues of the highest order.  I could not stop reading.  The list of characters far exceeds the few I have mentioned here.  Despite some serious bumps and potholes along the way, Theo manages to survive, through pluck, intelligence, and hard work, with quite a bit of luck thrown in for good measure.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch moves to the top of my list for the year, and perhaps the decade.  I have rarely encountered a novel of such grace, beauty, heartbreak, sadness, and joy, with thrills, mysteries, and even some chilling moments.  This novel has it all, and I could not urge my listeners more strongly to read this book as soon as possible.  You will get to know Theo; you will become a part of his family; and you will be forever affected by Tartt’s power as a storyteller.  I have to raise my scale for this extraordinary novel to -- 10 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.