According to a recent article, “The Book(s) of the Year” in PublishersLunch, “the clear consensus for the 2013 ‘book of the year’ has ended in … a tie. George Saunders’ Tenth of December and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch stood well above all others in the final count [aggregated from 58 sources], each garnering 25 picks.” The former is still stuck high up on my ‘must-read’ pile; the latter only seems to prove that massive mega-bestsellers and I just don’t get along.
The Goldfinch started grandly. Narrator David Pittu, who can tend toward unreliable, was in prime form when I committed to the 32.5 hours stuck in the ears (784 pages to strain your eyeballs). The first third had me enthralled, full of exquisite moments about longing, regret, missed opportunities, first love, salvation through art, beauty, and oh so much more. Theo Decker, at 13, loses his beloved mother in a Manhattan terrorist bombing at the Met. When Theo walks out alive, he carries with him a centuries-old ring, a priceless piece of art, and eternal guilt. All three will determine the course of the rest of his life.
Not knowing where his left-years-ago-father might be, social services places Theo in the home of a wealthy Park Avenue friend. His deadbeat dad unexpectedly reappears with his tacky girlfriend, empties the only home Theo has ever known, and moves him to Las Vegas. There Theo becomes inseparable friends with also-motherless, alternately neglected and abused Boris, who initiates Theo into the hazy world of booze, drugs, and delinquency.
As the characters repeatedly sink into oblivion, so, too, the novel devolves into utter tedium. More deaths, more deception, more regrets, more impossible chases continue to happen … until Theo ends up in an Amsterdam hotel room feverishly writing letters he’ll never send before he lands back in New York, deus ex machina-style.
At 16 hours in, I should have stopped, but curiosity kept me captive: I needed to understand this book’s stellar success. At 26 hours, I actually went in search of ‘customer reviews’ to see if I had completely lost my sanity since every media outlet seemed enthralled. Amidst the shining five-out-of-five stars, I also found “boring,” “dreck,” “SKIP,” “disappointing” … and yet I plodded on. By 30 hours, I was actually talking back to the iPod demanding death as the only reprieve (who knew I could be so desperate?).
Readers, I survived. To the very last word, although I’m convinced I’ve been embroiled in some ’emperor’s new clothes-plot. If nothing else, at least I can tell the coach … all that ultramarathoning has certainly upped my endurance.