Leftover stuffing is the best part. I like all the orange vegetables, too, but my favorite is the stuffing, even better the day after, even cold. And as I was eating my last crumbs of stuffing I was reading the last 20 or so pages of “The Goldfinch” and thinking of how sweet the final bits can be.
The book, though nearly 800 pages long, seemed to go by almost too quickly. I tried to slow down, but even at this heft, it was hard to put down. (Little digression: I had thought I would prefer to read it on my Kindle, but I got the hard copy as a gift and found its wonderfully smooth pages a reminder of the tactile pleasure of holding a book.)
All the reviews seem to reference Dickens, but I thought, rather, of the Brothers Grimm and all those folk tales of unparented children befriended by kindly old dwellers in odd houses. The book is filled with loss endured to the point of unendurability (even the apartment building?? really?) and a foray into a dizzy guns-and-vomit-punctuated chase that I found only barely tolerable. Yet I did not want it to end. And so I lingered over the last 20 pages, which may be among the most astounding and substantive and satisfying pages I have read in a long time. Maybe ever.
Those pages are a meditation on art, on how a single thing beyond ourselves--a “fateful object--a painting, a city, a color, a sound--may have as its grandest purpose not to entice crowds but rather to whisper in the ear of a single person and fill that one soul and be a balm against life’s guaranteed cruelties. This, the book tells us, is art’s magic.
I may be wrong about this. I’ve been known to be wrong in the past and it’s possible I may be wrong again in the future. I have read only one review mentioning this. But then again, I may not be wrong. Maybe Donna Tartt is telling us that in the face of uncaring Nature where “life is catastrophe” and “there is no way forward but age and loss...no way out but death,” our only defense is to grab hold of something that elevates us, that suffuses our hearts with glimpses of the possible and strengthens our resolve to immerse ourselves in our inexplicable lives.
In those final pages Theo, the book’s main character, muses that life is short and fate is “cruel but maybe not random. Nature and Death always win, but we don’t have to bow to it.” We can, he says, go forward with our minds and hearts open; "it is a glory and privilege to love what Death does not touch.”
And so it took me days to read the last 20 pages. I savored every word. Like last crumbs of Thanksgiving stuffing, which doesn't come around so often.
(When a book gets such uniformly high praise, it’s tempting to approach it cynically and pick for flaws. It couldn’t be that good, could it? Well, what did you think? )
Labels: "The Goldfinch", Donna Tartt, Thanksgiving leftovers