It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?
By Evgenia Peretz for Vanity Fair
My Inspiration for Selecting this Article
A few months back, I had randomly started a novel because my wife had downloaded a free sample of it on her Kindle (as an avowed reader of books, I tend to poach my wife’s e-reading, so I can claim I’m still loyal to the tangible product). I got through the 90 or so free pages somewhat engaged but not totally intrigued. Still, my wife had convinced me in that it was time to get a Kindle app on my smartphone, and since parts of those 90 pages made public transportation go by faster, I figured I’d just download the entire thing.
Over the next couple of months the book became a constant companion—even when I wasn’t engaged in tedious commutes (interestingly, I also learned in the process that reading an e-book is a lot easier on the finger and hand muscles—especially when the book is almost 800-pages long). The book is The Goldfinch, and the author, Donna Tartt, did a wonderful job of allowing me to lose myself in the plight of the hero, Theo Decker. His friends—and enemies—became my own.
Yet, when I was reading the book, I never considered it literature. Yes, I know: that sounds terribly snobbish. So I should probably provide a little more context: on Saturday I teach at an SAT school, in which one of my classes is a “Great Literature” course. Throughout the year, my brain is steeped in the likes of The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies. When I do read, it tends to be on the snooty side of things (The New Yorker short stories) not for mere affectation, mind you, but because I mostly gravitate towards books that have a profound take on the human condition. With Tartt’s novel, I didn’t feel I was in the company of great books. I found parts over-written, the syntax a little clumsy, the descriptions overwrought, and the story a little too light on taking on the human condition. For me, the adolescent and young adulthood struggles of the drug addled Theo just weren’t profound in the way that great books ostensibly are. (But boy what an engrossing read!).
And Now, June’s Article of the Month …
So I was very surprised when The Goldfinch ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. Wasn’t such an accolade reserved for high-minded literature? Well, I started asking myself a lot about literature, and what makes something Pulitzer Prize-winning. I’ll save you my musings here, and instead link you to the article of the month from Vanity Fair. In essence, this entire piece, “It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?”, is about the massive critical divide this book has engendered: some who find it an exquisite piece of writing and others who think of it as Harry Potter for adults. In trying to make sense of this polarity in the critical response, the Vanity Fair piece asks what makes a work literature—and if The Goldfinch passes that bar.
Some Words to Look Out For:
- Pans (not the kitchen implements)