The Goldfinch and The Value of a Good Mom

recite-10707-576083-mhptr3This is a re-post from January, when I had just returned from visiting my mom in Arizona. I should have re-run this on Mother’s Day, but I’m just now going through older posts. Here’s a little late Mother’s Day tribute . . . .

Reading The Goldfinch, I began thinking about my childhood and coming of age. Growing up, it seemed like I had an awesome family. We had a nice house, a nice business, and we did family type things. But, looking back at it from a different angle, I can see what a sham that was. To my dad, we were a hindrance, always keeping him being great.  He really thought he could have made it big if it wasn’t for us dragging him down. It was everyone else’s fault when things went wrong.

And now, as a mother, I see the value in having a wonderful mom. She wasn’t a “hug-it-out” mom, she was a “you’re-tough-you-can-do-it” mom. She didn’t believe in tears (and I’m a crier) and they rarely moved her. But she fought for my brother and I, even when we didn’t realize she was fighting for us. Yes, we had to work hard, but if someone was treating us badly, she went to bat for us. She stands at a mighty 5 foot, and rarely weighed in over 100 pounds. But I was told by more than one boy in my teen years that my mom scared them. She was, and still is, fierce in her love. Don’t hurt those she loves, or you will feel her wrath. As a mother, I get this. As the mother of a child with disabilities, I get it even more.

I was, and am, very lucky to have such a powerhouse for a mother. She still puts up with me, dealing with the fact that I don’t call often enough. She deserves every piece of happiness she has now, with my step dad, in happy retirement in Arizona. She deserves every round of golf, every bowling match, every soak in the hot-tub with a glass of wine. She deserves better children, but the best I can do at this point is to give her good grandkids. Thanks, MOM!   And now, onto my review of  The Goldfinch.

_____________________________________

“And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?”

Most of us remember that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of youth; the moment when you get caught doing the wrong thing. The moment you realize that you have disappointed the person or people you have always tried to please, your parents. Now, imagine that leading to the worst day of your life. Add in a visit to a museum, a sudden crush on a beautiful girl, a terrorist attack, a gift of trust, and the theft of a beautiful work of art. All within the first quarter of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Tartt’s hero is Theo Decker, a young man with his mother’s artistic eye and his father’s ability to con. We read Theo’s description of the terrorist attack that killed his mother, and we read as he takes off with Carel Fabritius’ painting, The Goldfinch (here’s a link to the painting:  http://www.frick.org/exhibitions/mauritshuis/605).

Theo’s father had abandoned he and his mother, so he is taken in by an uber-rich friend’s family until his father is located. His father then carts him off to Las Vegas, where he meets Boris, a boy who lives on the fringe of respectability. He clings to his friendship with Boris, and he clings to The Goldfinch, using it as a tether to his mother. When Theo’s father dies, he returns to New York, entering the world of antiques. We watch him enter college early, and become an antique dealer, doing some shady things to make the business boom and thrive. He meets up with his friend’s family, and he learns his friend has been killed in a boating accident, along with his father. The mother has become a rich-recluse, but the return of Theo starts to lift her out of her shell. He takes up with his friend’s younger sister. and they become engaged, although for both it isn’t necessarily love. He seems to have inherited his father’s con-man ways and addiction problems, and these become much more problematic as Theo gets older. The painting remains a focal point, although some have come to suspect that Theo has it. He has stored it away without looking at it since Vegas. Theo reunites suddenly with Boris, a gangster with a big heart. From here we follow Theo to Europe, and it gets exciting. Gunfights, art theft, gangsters, and redemption. And we get this great look on the thin line between good and bad from dear Boris.

“I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”

I have read a few reviews of this book where the reader struggles with the long descriptors and the adjectives. This was wonderful to me. Tartt uses these lengthy description to bring the readers to the beauty of ART, and Theo’s constant connection to art and beauty. She uses her beautiful words to show the reader how much Theo’s mother and her artistic eye stayed with Theo always. I’m not sure of the message of The Goldfinch, or if I agree with Boris’ thoughts that I highlighted above; it kind of seems like a cop-out for the criminals of the world. But I did love this book, and Tartt’s writing. I highly recommend The Goldfinch.

Tartt has only written three books, taking about 10 years to write each. As soon as I was done with The Goldfinch I rushed out and got her first book, The Secret History, which is also really good, if a little disturbing. I don’t know how I have missed Tartt, but I’m glad I found her now.
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