From the Wreck of Time: A Few, Scattered Thoughts on The Goldfinch.
Every now and again, I’ll read something so well-crafted that it will just sit with me for a few days, and I’ll need some time to recover from it and think on it—these pieces never really leave me.
Because a good book is a puzzle you can solve sentence by sentence, and my notes in the margins are proof that I’m standing alongside the author, engaged in their creation, picking up their hints and clues, the message that is locked within the narrative. What is an author ever trying, truly, to say?
The Goldfinch is one such story that caught me quite off guard. Though it received many sneers from contemporary critics who called it cliché, childish, and tired, I see such merit in the splendor of Tartt’s description, in her winding narrative, the tragedy and many-leveled parallels of chains and life-like enthusiasm; her drawn out Ekphrastic.
Boats, signs, flags, and stars, the lilt of the moon, ancient relics, Dutch history and culture; all these work coherently together in Tartt’s book to create a fluid set of themes that comment on the transience of our own comprehension of the world. Her ghostlike imagery of events and yet rock solid depiction of places, of things, brings her very modern, Object-Oriented ideology into the writing style itself.
She is both a light touch and heavy handed at once, but the parts that stick out to me the most are when she nestles a symbol, so serene in tone, in just the right place. I am thinking mostly of Hobie’s little antique toy—mentioned only twice—his Noah’s Arc. This simple symbol summarizes the story in such a beautiful way!
The nautical references stand in place of danger, of lilting on the edge, plunged headfirst into uncontrollable nature; the necessitude of flags to call out and communicate with others out in the mess of it with us; the way Theo feels so often that he is in the cabin of a ship rocking on high seas when drunk, when disoriented, when scared.
The antiquity of the little wooden thing, its history both as an artifact and in the theology that inspired it, align it with the manner in which objects speak to us through time.
The childish nature of the piece brings into play the persistence of emotional trauma into the trajectory of a life, the way humans never truly grow up, but only compound knowledge about the world on this one foundation.
The pairs of animals become mirror images of one another, time-worn reflections—Theo as a duplication of his father and also of Welty, the reoccurrence of characters and figures, his mother appearing through a mirror in his dreams, Rip Van Winkle’s dual episodes of consciousness, discovering that as much as things change they also stay so permanently the same.
What a remarkable interplay of concepts threaded through objects, traded around to create impact within lives! And as an author, what an ability to emotively embody lives within these things—carriers that weave in and out of our own worlds, threading together story lines with the ease of a ring passing hands.
I wrote aggressively into the margins of Tartt’s book because I stood with her, entranced by the artwork, the actor networks, the beauty of the archaic. I am fascinated by her depiction of life’s seediness without roots—antiquity being the anchor we require to settle us into reality. Our humanhood makes us impermanent fixtures in this world, and Tartt’s commentary on that fact, while relishing also in the melancholic elegance of it, is both a style and content to be envied.
And how wonderful to feel as if you are being toted along by the wrist in this novel, squinting and speed-reading, until finally there is a harmony in those last few pages when you find that she need not drag you any longer: you are upright and walking through the pages on your own, enthralled, as if through the most remarkable gallery of artwork.
There has never been a gif that makes my heart flutter quite like this one. Every time, Bender. Every stinkin’ time.