Throughout my bizarre journey through the American Public School system I’ve found myself lost. I’ve experienced the same vaguely cliched teen angst and 6th grade existential crises that everyone else seems to have. Also, like everyone else, in those particularly trying times I’ve gravitated towards literature, music, and film to explain my conflict. I let myself find myself in words. I seek truth and authenticity in order to help create and try on endless identities. These works of literature are few in number and appear on my bookshelf once every few years. When I was in my twelfth year it was Going Bovine, a YA book about a texas stoner kid who gets mad cow disease and has to save the universe. In Going Bovine I found my voice and a match to my previously clandestine eccentricity. I was a weird spirit growing up in a small upstate new york suburb. Cameron was also weird. We got each other. I took Cameron with me through seventh grade rituals: sitting in math classes I didn’t care about, days at sleepaway camp, trips to the hospital. A few years later my longing for literature manifested itself again in Sirens of Titan. It was the randomness this time I found that stuck with me. An introduction to the beauties of post modernism and a new love for science fiction. It was gorgeous existentially complacent. There was Just Kids where I was taught to take myself as seriously as I wanted and the lesser known YA book How to Say I love you in Robot where I met more weird children.
The most recent story I’ve found pieces of myself in was The Goldfinch which, incidentally just won the pulitzer prize for fiction. The Goldfinch, as the times so brilliantly described, is a Dickensian epic of sorts. Without giving too much away its about a teenager who steals the famous Fabritius painting of the same name in the wake of a tragedy. I read this 600 page plus book over my Christmas break. It was the kind of book that I found myself being able to read for periods of two hours. Theo and I shared things with each other. We both had similar flaws, similar desires. We have the obsession with looking to art and to other people to figure out who we are. It’s the kind of book you can’t put down because if you stop reading it you’re immediately displaced. When you try to get back into it you need 30 pages to reacquaint yourself with Tartt’s language.
Tartt weaves a story with a kind of masterful diction. She draws lines between art and life much like Theo does. There is intense and often times painful detail when it comes to the description of various pieces of furniture. Tartt does not have a terse style of writing. To get to a point she often would take pages and pages. While this could be considered a critique I thought it was a brilliant jest at english and society. We focus so much on conciseness. As students we’re told to get to your point as efficiently as possible. Tartt’s language defies this. The Goldfinch is not about achieving laconic brilliance. It’s too complicated and twisted to be under 300 pages. There would not be a Goldfinch in under 300 pages. The vastness of the story needs to be told through excruciating detail in order to fully understand Theo and his motives.
Theo is, after all, messy and complicated. He is a teenager as real as they come. The parts of his teenage years are chaotic but are so relatable. His problems are amped up versions of ones we experience. He lives in an excess we often fantasise about because its realistic. During his teenage years Theo lives in a forever that Tavi Gevinson describes as a period of immortality. He keeps his painting partially because he sees his mother, partially because he sees himself, and partially because of impulsive views of his mortality. Tartt doesn’t sugar coat. She gives us human beings. She gives us their grittiness. This is not escapism. You could classify it as an extension of post modernism and you’d probably be right. Theo can be a total fucking moron but so can I and so can you.
This book is something important. It is arguably one of the most important pieces of literature written in the past 10 years. I think the reason this is the tremendous size of this narrative. It is the underbelly. It is truly brilliant.