I turned the final page of this book feeling quite conflicted. I was wowed by the opening and became very fond of the characters in the first two hundI turned the final page of this book feeling quite conflicted. I was wowed by the opening and became very fond of the characters in the first two hundred pages: Theo, Goldie, Jose, Andy, the Barbours, Hobie, Pippa. I was hooked by the promise of Theo's conversation with Welty and what it might mean for the pages to come. However, with the transition to Vegas the novel becomes in many ways a gritty, repetitive narrative of self-destruction, self-absorption, resignation, and nihilism - primarily, but not only, on Theo's part. It holds to those themes through the end of the novel. With few exceptions, the characters and their behavior become so alienating that I stopped feeling compassion or affection for them, and my dislike for the oft-described "charming" Boris (a favorite character of many) only grew. But it was not so much the characters or the circumstances of the plot, but rather the message they were so clearly designed to bear that frustrated me in the end. And, boy, did Tartt drive that message home:
***possible spoilers hereafter*****
Says Theo: "What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? Is Kitsey right? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away…Or - like Boris - is it better to throw yourself headfirst and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?"
The quote establishes a dichotomy between Kitsey, representing the bland life of illusion and denial, and Boris, the ambassador, it seems, of living authentically - that is, the dichotomy between "a self one does not want" and "a heart one cannot help." This becomes the premise for a lengthy justification of, among other things, self-destruction and amoralism, one that I found very hard to swallow. And though Theo uses the language of prisonerhood, and the chained finch, to justify his belief in and, resignation to, a self-destructive life ("we don't get to choose the people we are"), he contradicts this seeming fundamental belief when it suits him, when it justifies the possibility of a relationship with Pippa: "Can't I change? Can't I be the strong one? Why not?" Moreover, are we readers really expected to ignore all the choices Theo has made along the way: the choice to befriend Boris, to begin experimenting in drugs, to name a few? Didn't those choices come to shape the person he is? Didn't he, in fact, have some influence on the man he became?
Is the dichotomy between Kitsey and Boris perhaps a false one? Most importantly, where could Hobie possibly fit in such a construct?
Moreover, though Theo speaks of self-ruin as "beautiful," of playing the "cruelly" stacked game of life "with a kind of joy," I did not see beauty or joy in the narrative of his exploitation and self-destruction. In fact, I saw quite the opposite. His suicide attempts occur while living the so-called authentic life with Boris, which seems to suggest that that self is actually the one he "does not want."
And finally, Boris's assertion that there is no meaningful difference between doing good and doing wrong: "I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between 'good' and 'bad' as you. For me: that line is often false…As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how." This self-serving philosophy completely overlooks all the damage Boris's behavior and influence has wreaked on Theo's life, even when Boris was, as he says, "acting out of love." It overlooks at least two violent deaths, and the impact of killing on Theo's spirit. What's more, overwhelmingly, Boris appears to act out of self-interest and not love. By contrast, Pippa demonstrates an understanding and wisdom far beyond Boris: her final letter to Theo shows an awareness not only of her own preservation, but of Theo's.
A coarse, violent,and sometimes incredibly disturbing story collection with fine threads of tenderness, vulnerability, and mercy. I love this author'sA coarse, violent,and sometimes incredibly disturbing story collection with fine threads of tenderness, vulnerability, and mercy. I love this author's sense of humor--and, of course, his prose--but his surprise gross-out moments made it a bumpy ride. ...more
The strange and imaginative characters and settings made these stories of loss and longing a little less melancholy. Though I read through the first fThe strange and imaginative characters and settings made these stories of loss and longing a little less melancholy. Though I read through the first four stories in one sitting, I gained a better appreciation for the collection by returning to it at intervals,reading only one story at a time....more
I haven't had so much fun with a mystery since I was a 10 ( and reading Bunnicula). This is such an endearingly wacky read with truly fresh ingredientI haven't had so much fun with a mystery since I was a 10 ( and reading Bunnicula). This is such an endearingly wacky read with truly fresh ingredients: the pipe-toting philosophical detectives, the Two Story House, the Refurserkir. And there's so much more than delightful absurdity to glean from it--the feminist twist really pushed this from a three- to a four- star book for me. And please, someone please read this book so we have long, detailed debates about the themes of authenticity and forgery! And Our Heroine as the female Hamlet! (Does that make the philosophical detectives Rosentrantz and Gildenstern?) ...more
Came back to this after letting it gather dust on my shelf, and I loved it--except for the ending. I found the resolution atypically weak for Marquez;Came back to this after letting it gather dust on my shelf, and I loved it--except for the ending. I found the resolution atypically weak for Marquez; it was too tepid and sentimental for a book that took such an honest, sometimes searing, look at love. As a whole, I'll remember it as one of my favorite books, with all the vibrant and idiosyncratic characters that make a Marquez novel unforgettable. ...more