I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.
Theo Decker loved his once-a-model mother above all else. He loved her heels kicked off in the living room, her sandalwood perfume, her glossy, black ponytail, her hand in his, the case of the wobblies she got on cab rides. In fact, even his father’s leaving them only registered as a blip on the screen of Theo’s life–because still there was Her.
And then one day she wasn’t. Theo survives the horrific act of violence that kills her, but not before he holds a dying man in his arms and receives a ring that will change his life. Theo also leaves the scene with The Goldfinch–that now iconic image that has captivated the hearts of so many Americans (link).
Theo’s life, then, becomes one he never expected. Something like the cloud that envelopes the Peanuts character Pigpen, a cloud of love lost and found, of violence and death, follows Theo everywhere. Social services barges into his life; family friends rescue him. Long-lost Dad reappears–and disappears just as easily. A street-wise Russian teen becomes his best friend. Theo comes to love exquisite antiques. He loses himself in a foggy haze of drugs and alcohol. And all the while there is The Goldfinch, the treasure he can’t relinquish, that ties him forever to his mother.
I don’t do well with teenage angst (probably because as a high school teacher, I live with it day in and day out) and there’s plenty of it in this novel. I also don’t do well with drugs and violence. My distaste for the TV series Breaking Bad is considerable–and there’s a lot of Breaking Bad in The Goldfinch. But still I plowed through the novel, all 771 pages of it. There’s an incredible loop-the-loop at the end that kept me going, hoping for Theo’s redemption. Author Donna Tartt ends the novel with what I sometimes call “blah blah blah”–a character’s ontological reflection on life and the nature of being–that in this case was so beautiful and compelling I didn’t roll my eyes. And while I’d find myself at once disappointed in Theo’s abject nihilism, I am forever drawn to his Goldfinch-like resilience and bravery, “refusing to pull back from the world.”