The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

There’s a Smucker’s ad that shows a youngster cramming to the brim with strawberries a glass jar he’s been long and ardently working at packing.

“Think I got it in,” he says in a whisper and raises the jar to see if he’s accomplished the task of making the brand of jam for which his family name has become famous.

But there is so much empty space around the fruit that he pours the individual strawberries out, and as he begins again, makes a mental check.

“Ow, I lost count!” 

“What you’re doing, Richard?” the approaching elder brother asks.

“How does Grandpa do it?” Richard muses.

“Do what, Richard?”

“How does he get so many strawberries in a jar?”

“You’ll figure it out,” the elder brother says, walking off about his own business.

Like Richard – that’s how I feel after reading, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

How does Tartt (no pun intended) bring to table an oeuvre so piquant, locking in chunks of juicy fruit with no air and no spaces?

Here is my list of the strawberries I see packed tightly in The Goldfinch:

  • a review of very graphic 9/11 film

  • a consummate appreciation for art history down the ages, with a concentration on select masterpieces

  • genuine socialite benevolence and generosity and an equal measure of love, loss, loneliness and second chances

  • the luxuries, vices and schizophrenic despair of the NYC wealthy and privileged

  • a flaming kaleidoscope of the drug underworld with its mix-and-match no-holds-barred experimentation

  • the preying on body and soul that magnetizes the gambler, the trafficker, and the blackmailer – rich material for detective sleuthing, spawned in a quagmire of murderous moods, infidelity, rage, talent and disappointment.

  • the dark corridors of chicanery on the perimeter of the art dealer’s world, corridors slick with pretentiousness and exploitation wrought on a veneer of prestige that can burnish any artifact for use as collateral

  • the perils of parenting in this unstable milieu of chameleon changeability and opportunism

  • bohemianism (immigrant and home-grown), living by its wits on the edges of this world

  •  the flawed loyalty and the sustaining, intuitive camaraderie of uptown private-school kids, a resurfacing network that flourishes on weaknesses known and exploited since childhood

Have I left anything out? Add a generous splash of these savor-brightening umamis:

  • the unforgettable taste of childhood love, permanently on the tongue of those who are lucky to have been gifted with the good of it, carrying this glow un-smudged into adulthood

  • sparkling humor, that piquant sprinkling of kosher salt to bring juices popping  on the tongue, a startling reminder that we should not take ourselves too seriously, considering the outlandish fabric of myths that we use to anchor us – myths that any other inter-planetarian (Boris) would rearrange into more sensible narratives to deal with our befuddling mores and codes.

  • and too, 10 years of sweat and a cadre of persons worthy of acknowledgment who sustained all along as the compote thickened.

Here’s the rub. Like Richard, I can check and recheck the ingredients time and time again, but I know I’ll always miss something. Furthermore, à la Picasso, and as Tartt’s narrative intimates of the original Fabritius Goldfinch, it is difficult enough to copy, much more to steal this composition.

The final product, which is there for all to delight in, gives a clue.

Nevertheless, devouring it is only a beginning, since deep down, I know I have to go find my own jar, choose my own fruit and then set about making my own mouth-watering concoction.

© Cynthia James, February 2014

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a yellow spot into the sun. (Pablo Picasso)

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