The Goldfinch

It’s the best book I’ve read all year and almost nobody’s gonna read it.

Because the intro is so damn slow and so overwritten you can’t help but put it down. I did. But having loved “The Secret History” so much I picked it back up, waited for the scenery to change and was blown away.

There’s no such thing as the Great American Novel. Even Mailer didn’t write it. Maybe you’ve got to go back to Tolstoy and “Anna Karenina” to bask in that three-dimensional greatness that’s a great read and also illuminates life.

Furthermore, we live in a bite-sized culture. Where we want to know what the essence is and then discard it.

But this becomes overwhelming. Because there’s little substance, only sauce.

Kind of like the AMAs last night.

Let’s get the fact that they’re ersatz awards out of the way. A Dick Clark production made to cash in on the aura of the Grammys. An AMA is so worthless, it’s not even worth stashing in your bathroom, where all rock stars mount their gold records, back when they used to get them.

But watching the amount of the AMAs I did, which was very little, in the nooks and crannies between the astounding Broncos/Patriots game, I was astounded by these facts:

1. I didn’t know who most of the people on the red carpet were.

2. Everybody was swinging for the fences.

In case you didn’t know, Miley Cyrus’s tour ain’t doing so well. Ticket counts in arenas are in the neighborhood of 6k. Which proves you can be in the news but that doesn’t mean everybody wants to see you.

They’re more interested in seeing the classic rock acts. Because they stood for something, they meant something.

Kind of like Ed Sheeran, who sold out three Madison Square Gardens. People react to real. And we’ve got a deficiency in that area right now.

Except in “The Goldfinch.”

The book business ain’t that different from music these days. They throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, they move on to something else. Trumpeting that which is a surprising hit and forgetting that which is not.

And “The Goldfinch” ran up the chart. But I doubt it will stay there.

Because at first it’s such a slog.

And is so at the end too.

But in between is a picaresque adventure far superior to any MP3 I’ve listened to this year.

You see not everybody’s a star. Not everybody’s a winner.

But we’re all at the epicenter of our own little movie.

The Web gives the impression that everybody else is interested in our movie. This is untrue. No one’s got the time. Unless you’ve got the most amazing story or can illuminate what it’s like to be a human being on this planet.

That’s what makes “The Goldfinch” so good. The interior dialogue.

Ever feel like you’re alone? Even when you’re together?

I do.

And so does Theo in this book.

Maybe that’s why I relate.

I’m not saying I made the same choices. But I understand the situations.

And I think about them.

No one talks about this stuff anymore. That’s why music tends to be so bad. So I can see you roar Katy Perry, what do you really think inside, how come you can’t put that in a song? Literally, not obliquely?

“…compliments threw me, I was never sure how to respond except to act like I hadn’t heard.”

I tend to nod my head. Sometimes I just say “Thanks.” I used to describe how I came to write what I did, but then I found people really didn’t want to know.

“It never failed to amaze me how my dad could charm strangers and reel them in. They lent him money, recommended him for promotions, introduced him to important people, invited him to use their vacation homes, fell completely under his spell – and then it would all go to pieces somehow and he would move on to someone else.”

I know this person. Not Theo’s dad, someone I was intimately involved with, a woman. She was beautiful and charming and people would give her everything and she would always disappoint them. I’ve never seen this paradigm described in a book. Until this.

“The memory of that childhood afternoon had sustained me for years…”

I’ve got a friend who’s still hung up on a woman he dated forty years ago. That’s the problem with the mind, it won’t let go. Oh, you can forget what you had for lunch yesterday, but personal interactions, a wink, a conversation, they can stay with you forever.

“…and the stainless steel fridge was always well-stocked with Girl Food: hummus and olives, cake and champagne, lots of silly take-out vegetarian salads and half a dozen kinds of ice cream.”

Eureka! Women don’t eat, but they obsess about food, especially sweets. And they want them right at hand when they get the urge.

I have a friend who says he was born without the money gene, that he just doesn’t know how to make it.

It’s not a gene, but a skill. And I’ve never seen it delineated so well as in “The Goldfinch”:

“…I had discovered I possessed the opposite of knack: of obfuscation and mystery, the ability to talk about inferior articles in ways that made people want them. When selling a piece, talking it up (as opposed to sitting back and permitting the unwary to wander into my trap) it was a game to size up a customer and figure out the image they wanted to project – not so much the people they were (know-it-all decorator? New Jersey housewife? self-conscious gay man?) as the people they wanted to be. Even on the highest levels it was smoke and mirrors; everyone was furnishing a stage set. The trick was to address yourself to the projection, the fantasy self – the connoisseur, the discerning bon vivant – as opposed to the insecure person actually standing in front of you. It was better if you hung back a bit and weren’t too direct. I soon learned how to dress (on the edge between conservative and flash) and how to deal with sophisticated and unsophisticated customers, with differing calibrations of courtesy and indolence: presuming knowledge in both, quick to flatter, quick to lose interest or step away at exactly the right moment.”

That’s the music business. Smoke and mirrors. Convincing the customer what you’re selling will make their lives better, whether it be the adolescent girl at home or the overweight PD at the major market station. It’s a game of hustling and deception. And the winners are masters at it. And it’s all right here, in “The Goldfinch.”

And now comes the piece-de-resistance:

1. “Because – the line of beauty is the line of beauty. It doesn’t matter if it’s been through the Xerox machine a hundred times.”

Which is why a great track sounds good even if it’s an MP3, even if it’s playing through the worst boom box ever.

2. “Still with real greatness, there’s a jolt at the end of the wire. It doesn’t matter how often you grab hold of the line, or how many people have grabbed hold of it before you. It’s the same line. Fallen from a higher life. It still carries some of the same shock.”

Like Joni Mitchell “Blue.”
Or AC/DC’s “Back In Black.”
Or any Beatles album.

Doesn’t matter if you discover it decades later, what enters your ears stops you in your tracks. You can’t believe how good it sounds, how it makes you feel.

And that’s what we’re in search of. This greatness.

And there’s very little greatness in the world. Which is why we’ve got astounding winners and also-rans. In the Internet era when everything is available we don’t have time for anything but the very best. Because it’s in our DNA. We want that jolt!

I got that jolt many times reading “The Goldfinch.”

But if only someone could have said no to Donna Tartt. Had her cut the book down, tighten it up, remove the need to read it with a dictionary ever-present.

But that’s what success buys you. The ability to do it your way.

It took her ten years to write this book. She was handsomely paid.

But she’ll never make as much as a banker.

Everyone will not know her name.

But those who read “The Goldfinch” will never forget her.

The Goldfinch

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