Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch follows Theo Decker, a 13‑year‑old boy living in New York who survives a terrorist attack at the Met that kills his mother. When Theo awakes from the attack, he provides companionship to a dying man, who gives him cryptic instructions, and, when leaving the scene of the attack, Theo steals the beautiful painting The Goldfinch. The novel follows Theo as he is taken in by a wealthy friend, then sent to the Las Vegas suburbs to live with his good‑for‑nothing father, and then back to New York to live with the dying man’s partner and turn into a terrible adult.
The first half of The Goldfinch is let‑your‑kid‑eat‑Cheetos‑for‑breakfast‑so‑you‑can‑read good. The terrorist attack at the Met is suspenseful, the wealthy family Theo moves in with is fascinating depiction of a rich New York family where each member has a glaring personal defect he is trying to hide, and his move to Las Vegas provides the perfect setting for him to turn into a teenage delinquent. Unfortunately, the book fails to maintain its interest after that. Theo moves back to New York and continues his descent into a truly terrible adult, and any potentially interesting other characters are pushed to the sidelines. THEN the novel returns to its opening paragraphs as Theo takes an adventure into a poorly written utterly unsuspensful crime novel. With about 100 pages left in the book, I did not care if Theo ended up dead on the side of a European roadway. In fact, I may have hoped for such a swift ending.
Moreover, The Goldfinch the painting popped in and out of the story in an annoying way. It was not a constant presence in the novel, but would come up every now and then just to remind you that Theo still had a stolen painting worth a lot of money. Tartt’s handle on technology is weak, at best, and it often left me trying to piece together the dates of the story and figure out when everything was happening. Kids using iPhones in the early 90s?
All of that said, I am glad I read this book. The first portion of the book really is a fantastic read and contains a number of intriguing characters. The writing is generally good, although Tartt could have used a bit of editing. Read it for the eastern European caricature that is Boris. Read it to learn more about antiques. Oh, and there’s a manic pixie dream girl, which everyone loves, right? Or, instead, take a three‑year‑old to see The Goldfinch the painting and have a discussion about that amazing painting.