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'Goldfinch' wins a deserved Pulitzer

Book Review

By Eamonn Walsh
On April 21, 2014

The 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced 3 p.m. April 18 at Columbia University. Prize categories ranged from journalism to books to music. The winner in the fiction category was the grandiose novel "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, beating out "The Son" by Philipp Meyer and "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" by Bob Shacochis. Published to great fanfare and critical success, "The Goldfinch" has captured readers' attentions all across the country. The third of Donna Tartt's novels published in the last twenty years, "The Goldfinch" nabbed the $10,000 prize and the giant boost in sales that winning America's greatest literary award garners.

Donna Tartt is an anomaly in the world of literature. In today's day and age where author exposure is needed to increase sales in a deflated industry, Tartt has remained something of a hermit. She reached superstar status when her sublime first novel, "The Secret History" was published in 1992. Receiving international acclaim and an unprecedented $450,000 for an advance, Tartt was poised to take over the world of contemporary literature. But then she disappeared. It wasn't until 10 years later when she reappeared with her lackluster sophomore effort, "The Little Friend." After receiving great sales but lukewarm reviews, Ms. Tartt left the stage again until the publishing of "The Goldfinch." "The Goldfinch" is a complicated novel. At its core it is a story about loss and how people deal with grief. Otherwise, the novel can be viewed as a commentary on American adolescence and the drug culture of the American West. The novel centers on the character Theo Decker. Theo is a precocious youth at the novel's opening. Raised and educated near the inner-circle of New York City society by his single mother, Theo is a child unlike any other. He is full of bravado and steadfast to his beliefs in the way that stubborn children usually are. He lives a comfortable life with his mother until a terrorist attack takes her away and leaves Theo with a small, priceless painting by the 17th century Dutch master Carel Fabritius. This painting stays with Theo as he is shipped to live with his father in the desert wasteland of Las Vegas. When Theo gets to Las Vegas, "The Goldfinch" reads like a completely different novel.

The writing pace picks up and the dialogue becomes littered with slang. Theo falls in with his neighbor Boris, a Russian immigrant who's father's job has take him all over the world. Boris and Theo are excellent foils; Theo has learned about different places and cultures and Boris has been there. In Las Vegas, Theo and Boris experiment with drugs and skip school. They are Ms. Tartt's commentary on America's youth; lazy and drifting through the desert wasteland. After their joint growing up in Vegas, Theo and Boris split-up only to be reunited at the novel's shocking conclusion.

Throughout the novel, the famous painting stays with Theo. He becomes obsessed with it because of its connection to his mother, not because of its value. The painting shapes his character and leads him to make certain decisions. In Theo's search for meaning after his mother's death, the painting is like a lighthouse, keeping him grounded and showing him how to navigate his life that is constantly becoming more complicated.

"The Goldfinch" is a very versatile novel. Touching on subjects ranging from unrequited love to desert mob dealings and settings from dingy antiquity dealers to Amsterdam restaurants, "The Goldfinch" is a large novel filled to the brim with characters that carry the novel's plot. Tartt could have done more with the storyline and the writing slogged a bit in the middle, but overall, "The Goldfinch" is a very satisfying read that is more than deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.


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