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The Barnes & Noble Review
Ten years after her astonishing debut novel, The Secret History, Donna Tartt's The Little Friend -- an absorbing, beautifully written account of murder and its consequences -- is a successful follow-up that reaffirms Tartt's talent.
The narrative takes place in Mississippi in the late 1970s, but the central event occurs twelve years earlier, when nine-year-old Robin Dufresnes is found hanging from a tree in his own back yard. Robin's murder, which is never solved, virtually destroys his family. Years later, twelve-year-old Harriet Dufresnes -- who was an infant when Robin died and who is haunted by images of the brother she never knew -- sets out to locate his killer.
Harriet's quest becomes a meditation on grief, obsession, and revenge. When Harriet identifies a likely suspect -- Danny Ratliffe, a drug-addled member of an impoverished redneck family -- she pursues him with a remorseless, sometimes appalling, single-mindedness. As the long, leisurely narrative unfolds, Tartt presents a cumulatively compelling portrait of a rural Southern community and of two deeply damaged families -- the Dufresnes and the Ratliffes -- whose destinies become intertwined in unpredictable ways.
Tartt is a natural storyteller and a masterful stylist whose precise, evocative descriptions of people, landscapes, and events are both convincing and hypnotic. At the same time, she displays an uncommon facility for the gothic and macabre, and her novel is filled with horrific, sometimes grotesque flourishes, such as an unforgettable encounter between an elderly woman and a kidnapped king cobra. Alternately dark, funny, sorrowful, and surprising, The Little Friend is a worthy successor to The Secret History. Bill Sheehan