It’s not easy being a human, flawed and insatiable as we are. Even when we know an action will cause our own detriment, we continue to pursue or perform such activity, time and time again. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is the human condition: the thin line of insanity that we walk, hoping for change, or hoping for the same, but mostly just insane for hoping. Yet hope is what makes us most human. Hope brings us closer to one another, perhaps hope tears some of us apart, but hope is what makes the insane person, and hope is why we create art.
In The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt draws upon every fallible bit of humanity, letting us explore through a collection of characters as real as the insanity they portray, exactly what it is to be human. Taking place in Amsterdam, Park Avenue, Las Vegas and the Village, the plot follows a Renaissance painting of a little goldfinch with a chain around it’s ankle. We are pulled through this seamlessly written novel by our earlobe, knowing full well that it is simply the human condition which carries Theo along. He grows into a man through the pages, while we stay hopeful that he might just do it differently this time. It is the set of characters that Theo meets along the way, however, which have me calling this my favorite book of 2014. Boris, the Russian, and Hobie, the antique furniture connoisseur/repair man, are equally alluring in their juxtaposition of darkness and light. Why Theo treats each of them the way that he does, defines the agony that it is to be human.
Ms. Tartt has created a place that I long to visit, the way that I long to tell the me of a decade ago how to make better choices. There is no visiting Theo in Park Avenue as he mourns the death of his mother though, just as there is no way to revisit the me of the past. It is the cross we bear, the knowledge that the choice may come again, along with the wonder of whether we’ll have the strength to decide not to cross the line of insanity this time, or whether to leap right across it – again.
I recommend you read this book, because it is a shot of life. Strong and hard to swallow, but there is a sweet aftertaste and I do think you’ll feel better afterwards. As Tartt so aptly puts it, “Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair.” We are a tragic lot, us humans, but there is always hope.