Stand-alone title:Released 10/22/13
I listened to the audio version of this book borrowed from my library saving me $ 45.00
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
Several factors came into play for my selecting this brick of a book that is fairly far removed from the normal spectrum of books that I usually read as one can get. It was available in audio format from my library and on the weekend I needed something to listen to while working in the yard. It also fulfilled a requirement in one or both of my reading challenges that I have not worked on for several weeks. So the stars seemed to align and I found myself listening the The Goldfinch on July 5 and bawling as I sheared sheep out behind my barn 28 years and one day after I had lost my own mother in a terrible accident, a car crash. Because of this shared loss I felt this instant connection to the lead character, Theo and became obsessed with listening to all 39 hours of this Pulitzer Prize winning tale.
I guess there is some controversy around the book. People either love it or hate. Critics tend to hate it and complain about how it is not worthy of all the literary awards and recognition that it has collected. Stating that the writing style is not up to their literary standards and too juvenile for such attention. Not being a sophisticated reader, nor claiming to be, I’m not going to be one to say if this book deserved a Pulitzer or not. I am also not going to say all those who hated this book were wrong in their opinions of the piece. After all each book is different depending on what the reader brings to it. I am going to tell you why it worked for me though. Why I feel so strongly about this piece and hope you give it a chance and pick it up to read despite its hefty commitment time wise.
I am almost haunted by this tale. I see so much of myself and my brother in the lead character that it was almost unsettling at times. I think anyone who has experienced a tragedy or epic loss in their life is going to identify with how the lead character is portrayed in this book and what he went through. That sort of loss is a game changer. It affects every aspect of your life and personality henceforth. It messes you up and infects every aspect of your existence, especially when it occurs at such a young age and so violently.
Theo was never going to have an easy life after the loss of his mother, but I almost feel the larger tragedy is the fact that they found his father and Theo went to live with him. If not for that, the story would have been much shorter.., but also Theo would have had a more stable life surrounded by people who would have cared for him and helped him overcome his situation better. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t have had the tendency to be drawn to the wrong people, but he would have also had better examples to model his life after as well. This is another area where I could appreciate Theo’s story and identify with him. I too lost the wrong parent and was left with the one who didn’t/couldn’t care for me and left me to raise myself. It lead to my own share of mistakes and regrets, and while I manged to stay out of the kind of trouble Theo got himself into, my brother was not as strong as I and ended up with similar situations that Theo found himself in regarding drugs and other juvenile delinquency. My own personal experiences make for this book and character having a very authentic feel to it. I can see how all of these events in Theo’s life could have led from one into another.
I also get why and how The Goldfinch painting played such a pivotal role in Theo’s life. When you lose someone who is basically the center of your universe you will do anything to keep them in your life. Going to great lengths to keep reminders and habits that are connected to them. To keep them alive and a part of your life. Eventually you learn to let these things go and find our own beliefs and artifacts separate from your lost loved one, but it takes time and some things will always remain important. Protecting the painting was Theo’s way of protecting his mother, or her memory at least. Keeping it for so many years was just his way to keep a piece of her and a moment that they shared.
The beginning of the book was the most moving for me. Like I said I found myself crying as I worked on shearing sheep and listening to the story. It was as if the author had portrayed in words everything I had felt and experienced when dealing with the death of my mother and its aftermath or fallout. The uncertainty and shock, the following numbness and fear for the future all captured there in the story as it unfolded. The awkward way adults then treated you and the struggle to find a new normalcy and not feeling like you will ever be a part of a family again. All of it almost to realistic to bear at times. If you read nothing else of the book, read that first part at least, especially if you have experienced a loss like this or know someone who has.
So why not five stars then. Well the book does get a bit bogged down sometimes and a tad to preachy at the end. The author really didn’t need to spell out each lesson she wanted the reader to take from the story in that last chapter. Most readers are clever enough to have drawn those conclusions from the story itself. There were also some fairly convenient twist of events near the end. I wish the author had let some plot lines turn out differently. Some of the ways she cleaned up the plot threads were a little to perfect to give the story a pleasant ending instead of the more realistic one. Theo got off a tad too easily from all the trouble he ended up mixed up in. Now a lot of it was simply problems that Boris created for him, but both characters didn’t get what they deserved for all the grief they caused the people who truly cared for them in their lives. Of course the story really isn’t over for either of them and Theo is dealing with the fallout for all his trouble, but still he got off too easy in my opinion. Then again it is a story, not real life and perhaps this is where they differ.
I’m not going to say that this is the best story I’ve read, or listen to, in my recent reading history, but it is one I’m glad I took the time for. I’m not going to look into anything else this author wrote or ever revisit this story again, but it will always be one that I will remember. I hope you give it a try, if only to to feel what it is like to live with the loss of this type. Tragic, sudden and all-encompassing. Life changing.