I did not want to read this book. Yes, it won the Pulitzer Prize but that has not always been a reliable barometer for me. Even though it came highly recommended by several of my most trusted reading buddies, I resisted. Why? Because it’s 775 pages!
No book needs to be THAT long, I thought. Either it’s full of extraneous (but possibly interesting) information, like Moby Dick, or the writing in the middle must be really sloppy and nobody had the nerve to tell the author that it needed to be cut. I felt the same way about the later Harry Potter books. They were so long that I didn't want to read them, though I was happy to listen to the wonderful Jim Dale read them to me on long road trips.
Then a similar situation arose: a long flight. I wanted something that would keep me engaged for the whole flight, since I don’t like to go immediately from one book into another.
The Goldfinch was perfect. From the first sentence to the last, my attention was absorbed by the world of the story; I fell into it like a dreamer falling off a bridge, submerged, enclosed. During the last hundred pages I kept trying to slow down because it was so beautiful, some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time. I wanted to savor everything about life and death and art. But no, I kept tearing ahead to find out what would happen next.
At the beginning of the book, thirteen-year-old Theo Decker loses his mother in a horrific accident. That scene took my breath away, a perfect example of writing in the moment. I could tell you what happened in a sentence, but the buildup and Theo’s moment-by-moment experience make the scene unforgettable. In the aftermath, Theo comes into possession of a heavy gold ring and a small painting by Dutch painter Fabritius of a goldfinch chained to a shelf.
Told in Theo’s first-person voice, the story captivated me. The author’s sure hand kept the suspense high and the plot moving. But even more than the plot, smart and unexpected as it was, what held me were the characters. I adored Theo from the beginning, from his description of his artistic and adorably freckled mother. He tried my patience at times, as teenagers will, but I couldn’t give up on him.
Even more than Theo, I loved his mother. Then there are Theo’s schoolfriend Andy and Andy’s mother, a rather scary society matron who likes her gin and lime; they both developed in ways that surprised me and endeared them to me. One of my favorites is his teenaged buddy, Boris, a scruffy Ukrainian who starts out the proverbial bad influence—though hilarious—and ends up showing more depth than I’d have thought possible.
Best of all, for me, is Hobie. An older man who shuffles about, completely incapable of running the antique business for which he’s responsible, Hobie works magic as a restorer of old furniture, a trade he teaches Theo, and maker of wonderful meals. Eccentric and often solitary, Hobie yet has a close circle of friends and an unfailing insight into flaws and how to fix them.
I don’t want to give away any more of the plot. Don’t read about it anywhere. Let it just unfold. Set aside a day or two. Let go. Fall in.
What kind of books do you like to read on a long plane ride?