I picked this book up to read for one of my book clubs, intending to pass it on to a different one of my other book clubs. It received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and had pages of rave reviews in the beginning of the book so I dove in, despite it being over 700 pages.
The book tells the story of Theo Decker, a 12 year old boy who loses his mother in a bombing in a New York City museum. He is given a ring and told to take a picture of a bird (The Goldfinch) by a dying man in the rubble of the building. He escapes and ends up living with the very well-connected family of a friend until his vagrant father returns to claim him and drags him to Las Vegas. There he meets Boris, a Russian world-travelling teen who introduces him to drugs and debauchery. He escapes mid-teens back to New York to the family of the dying man from the museum where he runs their antiques and restorations store with less than ethical business practices. Boris returns to his life and reveals the painting he's kept secret isn't even there and the two of them set off across Europe to retrieve the original and redeem Theo's life.
The first third of the book is an homage to New York art and intellectual life, a place of wonder and privilege for little Theo, doted on by his saintly and sophisticated mother, Theo is the least believable 12 year old imaginable, unless of course one is familiar with upper class New Yorkers' children. In the second third, his adventures in Las Vegas read like someone who's heard about Las Vegas but has never actually sunk so low as to actually go there. Thankfully, he returns to New York and all its majesty, where the antiques restorer fills in as a caring father figure, which Theo abuses by selling his restorations as originals and using the money for prescription drugs. The last part of the book rushes through his reunion with his previous caretakers, an engagement to their cheating daughter and several pages reflecting on how art endures.
Here's the poor little orphan reflecting on when his father left:
"In many respects it was a relief to have my father out of the picture...though it was sad when [mother] had to let our housekeeper, Cinizia, go because we couldn't afford to pay her..."
The antique dealer's niece is also orphaned and shuffled off to Texas where "there's nothing to do but go to the movies and you can't walk anywhere, people have to drive you. Also they have rattlesnakes, and the death penalty, which I think is primitive and unethical in ninety-eight percent of cases."
It almost felt at times like I was reading a young adult novel. There's lots of cliches and preposterous happenings and way too many pages describing his feelings of anguish over his mother's death. In the end he reflects that "I don't care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it, no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here's the truth: life is catastrophe."
At least his life is, the spoiled whining brat.
Published: 2013 Read: November 2014 Genre: Fiction