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Smerth Review: Werds about The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

Smerth Review: Werds about The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?
— Donna Tartt
We didn’t realize until later that The Goldfinch was based on an actual painting:  The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.

We didn’t realize until later that The Goldfinch was based on an actual painting: The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.

The Smerths went to Nashville in February to see a First Aid Kit concert at the Ryman Auditorium (incredible) and to discuss our first book, The Goldfinch! We try to do something each time that has something to do with the book, so for this one, we went to the Frist Art Museum (ill-advised if you’ve read the book, but we couldn’t exactly pick up and go to New York or Nevada or overseas).

Saying we went to Nashville really glosses over some of the finer points that we think made this conversation what it was (and maybe also had a little sway on how at least Mary interpreted the book). Picture this: The FIVE HOUR drive up was miserable, cold, wet, and abysmally rainy. At one point Mary had to make Laura pull over somewhere outside the Pisgah National Forest so that she could pee behind the National Forest sign because there were just no rest stops anywhere. When we got to our actually quite sweet Airbnb, the outside was blue with winter. Blue, wet, rainy, cold; maybe that’s why Mary responded a little... negatively to this book.

BUT some highlights of Nashville were:

  • The First Aid Kit Concert: Nothing to do with the book, but spectacular. Wonderful. Amazing. All the adjectives. Sooooooooo good.

  • Parnassus Books: Ann Patchett’s bookstore. Exactly what an independent bookstore should be. Perfection.

  • Hatch Show Print: No self-respecting designer (Laura) can go to Nashville without visiting Hatch. It’s moved since the last time we visited, but still an institution.

  • There was a bombass Nick Cave exhibit at The Frist, wherein we were reprimanded for touching the button walls, which were apparently part of the exhibit (whoops!). But the pieces in the exhibit were pretty awesome and stimulating, and introduced us to a new, gorgeous voice in today’s art world.

So anyway, the book! We should probably tell you now that this post contains spoilers. In fact, all of our reviews will, so… you know… be warned.

Laura’s Thoughts:

I have this thing where when I have required reading, I put it off as long as humanly possible. It bit me in the butt during college, and since The Goldfinch was our first book club pick of the year, it suffered a little from this residual little rebellion in me. I can’t explain it. But I got through it eventually, even if it was well into our trip to Nashville – sorry Mary!

This book did not illicit a strong reaction in me, and I’m not sure if it’s because it was the first, or because it just wasn’t my style of book. I mean… it was fine. My favorite part about it is probably the quote above. It was definitely richly written and captivating at times, but I’m the type of reader that needs at least one likeable person in the cast of main characters that I can root for. I suppose I had that with Hobie, but I wanted more of him, or maybe I wanted more of his influence? I’m not sure. One thing we discussed when reviewing it was that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. We were slightly perplexed as to why, although it should be said that we had not read many Pulitzer winners ourselves. I’ve definitely added more to my to-read list, so I can sniff out the correlations.

Laura’s Star Review: 3 stars

Mary’s Thoughts:

So...I didn’t like it. Which is pretty hilarious given that I chose this book. Laura and I are very alike in some of our requirements of what makes us enjoy a book. We both need characters who bring us joy. And before you harp on about modern literature’s defining feature being that the ending doesn’t have to be happy and the protagonist doesn’t actually have to be a protagonist, know this; I don’t currrr. I want joy when I read. Reading is escapism. And if you (the author) can’t manage to show me the futility of the world, its harsh reality and painful truth without also giving me joy, then you are not doing your job.

Which is probably why I didn’t like Theo. Theo represents someone who was gifted with plenty of potential and either because of the things that have happened to him or because of his own personality quirks, chooses not to seize those potentialities. He could have stayed with the Barbours, hell he probably could have stayed with Hobie if he had just spoken up to his Social Workers. But he didn’t. The child Theo seems to be someone that things happen to. (I have since been admonished by a few friends of mine who experienced trauma as a child that I am heartless for thinking these things about Theo). So, I will relax my stance and say that I understand why he was the way he was, but I don’t have to like it!

Boris: Oh Boris. I feel like any of us who may know Eastern European men, have met a version of Boris somewhere. Boris is an example of how toxic masculinity creates monsters out of babes.

Other Things I felt:

  • This book took FOREVER to get started. I think we were nearly three-quarters of the way through before some plot actually began.

  • Theo’s thoughts on and treatment of Pippa were just ridiculous. He felt like he could own her and deserve to own her through his actions and words. I really hated it.

  • Living in an antique store sounds AWESOME.

  • Nevada sounds like a hell-hole. (Sorry)

  • International art crime seems like an interesting way to make a living.

    Mary’s Star Review: 3 stars

At the fancy, Art Deco Frist Art Museum

At the fancy, Art Deco Frist Art Museum

For those of you who have read the book, what do you think? Do you think Theo redeemed himself in the end? Do you think there even should be redemption? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Our 2018 Book Lineup

Our 2018 Book Lineup