Does such a thing as "the fatal flaw," that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.
Eleven years later, right on schedule, The Goldfinch arrived. I am more than halfway through its 784 pages and I'm already dreading its end. After all, I'll have to wait until the 2020s to read her next one.
The Goldfinch begins with 13-year-old Theodore "Theo" Decker barely surviving a terrorist attack on New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. He spends several harrowing--and ultimately futile--hours searching for his beloved mother.
Theo's life becomes one of chaos and instability as he is thrust into sudden orphan-hood. Various caretakers don't always have his best interest at heart. He copes with his living situation and ever-present grief by delving into alcohol, drugs, and petty crime. He navigates a precarious adolescence in which the reader holds her breath, just hoping he won't fall off the edge.
I got to meet Tartt at a reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia last October. We didn't become best friends, as I had hoped. I was too nervous and geeky and I think I came across as aloof in my effort to mask it. But she's very astute and it's possible she sensed that and knows how much I love her.
During the Q&A many commented on her lack of prolificacy. "If I did my math right," she said, "this could be three 250-page books."
Instead, her lengthy novels have a depth and richness that would be sorely missed in a shorter story. She started out writing poetry and short stories in college, "but it wasn't really until I began writing my first novel that I understood that I had found what I did best, what I like to do, and the long-form novel is, really, just what suits me best."
Her approach to writing mirrors other facets of her life:
If I’m going on vacation, I’m the person who likes to go one place for a month and stay in that one place and get to know it really well rather than sort of, you know, sort of hopping around to lots of different places. I want to know one thing very deeply.