It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is a remarkable story which follows young Theo Decker across the country and through drugged-out hazes and terrifying incidents. The settings are large, significant places: New York City, Las Vegas, swaths of Europe. But it wasn't always this way for Theo. The only thing that has derailed his relatively normal life is the day he and his mother pay an impromptu visit to the art museum. His beautiful, charming mother loses her life there in a multi-bomb terrorist attack and Theo stumbles away almost without realizing he's done something that will change his life forever. As his shell shock subsides and his precarious position in the world becomes obvious, he also finds himself burdened with a terrible secret.

The scope is Dickensian (there, I said it, although it's already been said by so many other reviewers) and the plot is twisty and expansive at the same time. But this is a story largely made up of the minutiae of life. Meals are eaten, cigarettes are smoked, and people discuss their fears, families, and foibles. Tartt has that Stieg Larsson talent of making it genuinely interesting to read about someone fixing their lunch.

All this is to say that The Goldfinch is a large, serious work that somehow is a huge pleasure to read. Those small, seemingly insignificant details are what make Tartt's book so unexpectedly pleasing. Theo is an intelligent, likable kid. And it's painful to watch him deal with his mother's death. It's disappointing when he becomes a juvenile delinquent in response to the loss of the life he's known. The reader is made to feel all the lost emotions someone in his circumstances are bound to experience. Time and time again he makes bad decisions or narrowly escapes the fallout from a foolish choice. But during my reading I never brought myself to hate Theo or be angry or frustrated with him when he's made such a mess of his life. He's such a realistic character that you feel as if you know what it is like to be him, not just know him. In this way, Tartt makes him sympathetic rather than annoying.

Theo isn't the lone standout character among a sea of colorless personalities. I would like to list for you the characters in this book that I don't believe I will ever forget, but the list would probably get a bit tiresome. Some are delightful, some are selfish, and others are so bizarre yet well drawn that you can easily imagine having met them once or twice.

The book has received some scathing reviews. Critics have called it childish and accused Tartt of helping dumb down adult readers. But her writing is beautiful. And for all the flaws reviewers have pointed out in the story and its too-neatly-tied-up ending, I would rather read 100 pages of Donna Tartt describing an excellent meal and a walk in Central Park that read 10 pages of John Steinbeck. Guess that makes me dumb.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Page!

Top righthand side of the page, you will now see a list of my blog's pages. As of today, there a 2 whole pages. "Home" will take you to the main page and "About me me me!" gives you more information about who I am and what I'm about. Please read it if you don't know me or if you do and have forgotten who I am. I won't hold it against you as long as I never find out. One day, in the fullness of time, I will add some pictures of me, my dog, my books, but most importantly: me with Jenna Marbles-esque eye makeup, reading books in vintage-style dresses. What can I say? I know what I like.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

George Washington's Secret Six: Spies!

Cool: a book about the spy ring that helped George Washington win us the Revolution. Intrigue, history, cool stuff you wish you'd learned in school; where could it go wrong? Starting on page one, is where.

This book was good. But it wasn't as good as I thought it would be and so I was pretty disappointed. The story is thrilling and the facts are fantastic. The problem is that Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger gave us a book that handles this treasure poorly. It's not strictly nonfiction because they invent conversations between the spies. And it's not a historical novel. Instead it tries to be both. Yes, the phrases used in conversation are culled from the figures' own letters, but that doesn't make for exciting or believable dialogue.

And stop telling us HOW the characters talk. A wise, wise man named Elmore Leonard once said, "Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue." The dialogue in Secret Six just so wooden and rife with "gruff" or "nervous" men and dialogue that ends up sounding like:

"Consarn it, this goes against mah backwoodsmanlike instincts but ah do so love to ruffle the feathers of them Red Coats that ahl take the risk!" he said gruffly, banging his tankard of Sam Adams Octoberfest on the table.

Ok, I made that up, but I'm only exaggerating slightly.

There are only so many times we need to be told that Mr. Woodhull grumbles and has no social graces, blah blah. We get it, guys. You established a vibrant character, but you don't trust us to remember his most important traits from one page to the next. I would much rather read made up conversations that are actually good or just read it as straight nonfiction. My other issue is that there is no mystery, no slow reveal of who the spies are and what role they play. We get too much information up front and then the dry details are filled in as we go.

I'm not really sure what type of reader would enjoy this book the most. Anyone not fascinated by the American Revolution will be bored. But anyone who has already studied much about the war, and especially the spies, will probably already know these stories of espionage and near misses.