The Goldfinch

Overview

"The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home ...

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The Goldfinch

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Overview

"The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

THE GOLDFINCH is a mesmerizing, tell-all-your-friends triumph, hailed by Stephen King as "a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind." (New York Times Book Review)

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…dazzling…a novel that pulls together all [Ms. Tartt's] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading…It's a work that shows us how many emotional octaves Ms. Tartt can now reach, how seamlessly she can combine the immediate and tactile with more wide-angled concerns…Ms. Tartt is adept at harnessing all the conventions of the Dickensian novel—including startling coincidences and sudden swerves of fortune—to lend Theo's story a stark, folk-tale dimension as well as a visceral appreciation of the randomness of life and fate's sometimes cruel sense of humor…But it's not just narrative suspense that drives this book; it's Theo and Boris, the stars of this enthralling novel, who will assume seats in the great pantheon of classic buddy acts (alongside Laurel and Hardy, Vladimir and Estragon, and Pynchon's Mason and Dixon), taking up permanent residence in the reader's mind.
The New York Times Book Review - Stephen King
The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of The Goldfinch, they never do…Surprisingly few novelists write well of grief, but Tartt—whose language is dense, allusive and so vivid it's intoxicating—does it as well as it can be done…The Goldfinch is a triumph with a brave theme running through it: art may addict, but art also saves us from "the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live." Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.
Publishers Weekly
Donna Tartt’s latest novel clocks in at an unwieldy 784 pages. The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker’s beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo’s care. With the same flair for suspense that made The Secret History (1992) such a masterpiece, The Goldfinch features the pulp of a typical bildungsroman—Theo’s dissolution into teenage delinquency and climb back out, his passionate friendship with the very funny Boris, his obsession with Pippa (a girl he first encounters minutes before the explosion)—but the painting is the novel’s secret heart. Theo’s fate hinges on the painting, and both take on depth as it steers Theo’s life. Some sentences are clunky (“suddenly” and “meanwhile” abound), metaphors are repetitive (Theo’s mother is compared to birds three times in 10 pages), and plot points are overly coincidental (as if inspired by TV), but there’s a bewitching urgency to the narration that’s impossible to resist. Theo is magnetic, perhaps because of his well-meaning criminality. The Goldfinch is a pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct. 22)
From the Publisher
"Dazzling....[A] glorious, Dickensian novel, a novel that pulls together all Ms. Tartt's remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading."--Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

"The Goldfinch is a book about art in all its forms, and right from the start we remember why we enjoy Donna Tartt so much: the humming plot and elegant prose; the living, breathing characters; the perfectly captured settings....Joy and sorrow exist in the same breath, and by the end The Goldfinch hangs in our stolen heart."--Vanity Fair

"A long-awaited, elegant meditation on love, memory, and the haunting power of art....Eloquent and assured, with memorable characters....A standout-and well-worth the wait."--Kirkus (Starred Review)

Library Journal
In Tartt's much-anticipated latest, following 1992's The Secret History and 2002's The Little Friend, young Theo survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, he lives with a friend's family in New York, where his obsession with a small painting that reminds him of his mother leads him to the art underworld. With a 250,000-copy first printing and what's billed as a social media extravaganza.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
A long-awaited, elegant meditation on love, memory and the haunting power of art. Tartt (The Little Friend, 2002, etc.) takes a long time, a decade or more, between novels. This one, her third, tells the story of a young man named Theodore Decker who is forced to grapple with the world alone after his mother--brilliant, beautiful and a delight to be around--is felled in what would seem to be an accident, if an explosion inside a museum can be accidental. The terrible wreckage of the building, a talismanic painting half buried in plaster and dust, "the stink of burned clothes, and an occasional soft something pressing in on me that I didn't want to think about"--young Theo will carry these things forever. Tartt's narrative is in essence an extended footnote to that horror, with his mother becoming ever more alive in memory even as the time recedes: not sainted, just alive, the kind of person Theo misses because he can't tell her goofy things (his father taking his mistress to a Bon Jovi concert in Las Vegas, for instance: "It seemed terrible that she would never know this hilarious fact") as much as for any other reason. The symbolic echoes Tartt employs are occasionally heavy-handed, and it's a little too neat that Theo discovers the work of the sublime Dutch master Carel Fabritius, killed in a powder blast, just before the fateful event that will carry his mother away. Yet it all works. "All the rest of it is lost--everything he ever did," his mother quietly laments of the little-known artist, and it is Theo's mission as he moves through life to see that nothing in his own goes missing. Bookending Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, this is an altogether lovely addition to what might be called the literature of disaster and redemption. The novel is slow to build but eloquent and assured, with memorable characters, not least a Russian cracker-barrel philosopher who delivers a reading of God that Mordecai Richler might applaud. A standout--and well worth the wait.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"A beautiful, stay-up-all-night-and-tell-all-your-friends triumph," runs the publisher's gush, incorrigibly, on the back cover of The Goldfinch. Hmmm. How about staying up all night, carrying on through the next day, gobbling some Benzedrine-like Jack Kerouac, staying up a second night, discovering in the white sadness of the dawn that there are still 300 pages to go, bursting into tears and burning the toast? And then telling all your friends?

Donna Tartt's third novel is 771 pages long. This is not a trivial consideration. It is moreover an enveloping and slightly paralyzing literary experience, such that if you submit to it in the proper spirit your Twitter feed may go unchecked, your Facebook page unrefreshed, for days or perhaps weeks. My reviewerly impulse is to compare it to a drug, to some kind of opiate or slow-release pill, but the book itself is already stuffed with drugs — coke, heroin, Oxycontin — so I will compare it instead to the memory implantation technology in Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, remember? Enjoying grafted-on memories of a fictional holiday on Mars? Well, after a session or two with this book the hissing curbs of rainy Manhattan will be yours forever, whether you've been there or not: traffic-torrents, city-spume on your ankles, rushing faces, patter of a friendly doorman — yours to keep. There will also be a corner of your brain devoted to the skies over Las Vegas, and another area that smells of high-end furniture polish.

Bomb-blast in the museum. That's how The Goldfinch begins, like a modernist manifesto in action. But though the fragments sunder and swirl, Tartt's storytelling is old-school, sequential, with a continuous, even pressure of mind behind it. Young Theo Decker is visiting the Met with his mother when chaos hits: things fall apart, the center cannot hold, etc. "Alarm bells clanged in a muffled distance... Stiffly I lay there, in the growing consciousness that something was out of joint. The light was all wrong, and so was the air..." Theo is only lightly injured, but his mother has been killed, and life as he has known it is over. The tinnitus from which he suffers in the immediate wake of the explosion will recur later, at times of acute stress. His unreliable, or reliably terrible, actor-alcoholic father having absented himself - - to the relief of Theo and his mother — some years before, he is effectively an orphan. The wealthy family of a school friend takes him in; from the cheerful bohemian existence he shared with his mother, he has been removed to a world of "glazed chintz and Chinese jars."

The lineaments of fairy tale are discernible here, and indeed people do begin to loom upon Theo with the vivid malevolence of Joan Aiken characters. " 'But hello,' she said — all charm all of a sudden, holding out to me her thin, red hands covered with diamonds." His haven and place of rest is the demesne of the furniture-restorer Hobie, whose niece Pippa is a fellow survivor the Met bombing. Hobie's dark workshop and gentle manners are a balm to the damaged Theo. I should mention at this point the small and very valuable painting by Fabritius, of a chained goldfinch, with which a wobbly Theo made off in the confusion of the freshly-shattered museum, and which, for reasons unclear to him, he cannot bring himself to return. His father reappears; he leaves New York, goes to live with his father in Vegas; altered skies, altered states, new chemicals and different friends (you will not soon forget the extraordinary Boris, a mobile drug-vacuum and mini-Lord of Misrule).Theo changes identities almost — but the painting travels with him, still hidden from the world, a charged object sending out secretive pulses of shame, promise, riches, scandal, fantasy.

Tartt's prose is of the kind that goes everywhere, explains everything, tumbles over its own rhythms in transports of data- based imagery. When a heavy debt-collector arrives at his father's door, a terrified Theo goes woozy over the man's footwear: "Not knowing what to say, I stared at his cowboy boots. They were black crocodile, with a stacked heel, very pointed at the toe and polished to such a high shine they reminded me of the girly-girl cowboy boots that Lucie Lobo, a way-out stylist in my mother's office, had always worn." TMI, as the kids say? A Rick Moody- esque piling-on of not-quite-necessary detail? Actually, no. Theo's mind works this way, in synaptic somersaults that generally lead back to his vanished mother. And as for the gangster, the feminine gloss of his pointy boots somehow increases his fearsomeness. (Elmore Leonard did this all the time.)

There are, it must be pointed out, no laughs in The Goldfinch. Plenty of emotional truth, moral mystery, perceptual overload and narrative surge — but no laughs. You will not find yourself giggling or snorting, even as Theo veers and crashes through a hundred comedy-ready situations and set-ups: art sharks, Vegas casualties, Russian mobsters and so on. Perhaps it is simply that his pain is too great, the pull of his anti-self too strong to allow any loose chuckles to escape. The Goldfinch has a corresponding power, a visionary drag on the circuits. When your core is out of whack, it seems to tell us, nothing can compensate. And so it will go, until the little chained bird is free.

James Parker is the author of Turned On: A Biography of Henry Rollins (Cooper Square Press), and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

Reviewer: James Parker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316055444
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 1/6/2015
  • Pages: 784

Meet the Author

Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and is a graduate of Bennington College. She is the author of the novels The Secret History and The Little Friend, which have been translated into thirty languages.

Biography

Donna Tartt excels at turning places of ordinary privilege into places tinged by anxiety and death. In her first novel, The Secret History, a small liberal arts college in New England becomes the playground for a dangerous, elite clique of scholars; in her next novel, The Little Friend, Mother’s Day in a small Mississippi town serves as the backdrop for the discovery of a nine-year-old boy’s hanging.

Though she has written several short stories and essays for magazines such as Harper’s and the Oxford American, little has been seen of Tartt since the publicity blitz that accompanied The Secret History’s publication in 1992. The book became a bestseller, and critics were reservedly enthusiastic.

Tartt had taken on a lot in The Secret History. It was partly a thriller, partly a critique of academe, and was densely packed with literary references from both classical Greek and contemporary literature. Some thought Tartt had bitten off more than she could chew, but she still earned praise for her sheer thematic ambition and her ability to create atmosphere and a driving pace. Ultimately, the book was enough to establish the Mississippi writer as a talent worth watching, and to inspire a handful of devotional web sites that dutifully enumerated her few-and-far-between publications.

The Tartt short stories that have since appeared in magazines show a glimpse of the talent that wowed professors at University of Mississippi – a Christmas pageant goes criminally awry, a former child star goes on what he considers a doomed visit to a hospitalized child – and her essays further reveal her skewed perspective. Finally, in 2002 and a decade after the debut that made her a sensation, Tartt published The Little Friend. The premise, a 12-year-old girl’s effort to avenge the murder of her older brother, shows that Tartt has not shied away from her exploration of the darknesses that lie underneath seemingly harmless facades.

Good To Know

Tartt's classmates at Bennington College included the writers Bret Easton Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt. It was Ellis who introduced Tartt to his agent, Amanda "Binky" Urban; and it was Urban who started a bidding war for The Secret History that scored Tartt a reported $450,000 advance.

Southern writer Willie Morris was a mentor for Tartt at University of Mississippi, where she spent her freshman year. Morris, who had read some stories of Tartt’s, introduced himself and told her, “I think you’re a genius.” He got her enrolled in a graduate writing seminar, and later encouraged her to transfer to Bennington.

Drawing on their college days, when Tartt would hold alcoholic "teas" in her dorm room, Ellis called his classmate "the only person I know who could drink me under the table" in a 1992 Vanity Fair article. Perhaps Tartt's stamina had something to do with her early "medicine" for the frequent illnesses caused by tonsils that were overdue for removal. Presiding as her nurse, Tartt's great-grandfather gave her regular doses of whiskey and cough syrup containing codeine. "Between the fever and the whiskey and the codeine," wrote Tartt in a Harper's essay, "I spent nearly two years of my childhood submerged in a pretty powerfully altered state of consciousness."

Signed first editions of The Secret History now run around $100.

Film rights to The Secret History were sold to director Alan Pakula; but Pakula died in 1998, and the project languished until Gwyneth Paltrow expressed interest. The film is now reportedly in production at Miramax under the actress, with Paltrow's brother Jake set to direct.

Tartt on the delay between books, to the BBC: "I can't write quickly. If I could write a book a year and maintain the same quality I'd be happy. I'd love to write a book a year but I don't think I'd have any fans.”

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    1. Also Known As:
      Donna Louise Tartt (birth name)
      Donna Louise Tartt (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 23, 1963
    2. Place of Birth:
      Greenwood, Mississippi
    1. Education:
      Attended University of Mississippi; B.A., Bennington College, 1986

Read an Excerpt

The Goldfinch


By Donna Tartt

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2013 Donna Tartt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-05543-7


CHAPTER 1

Boy with a Skull


i.

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I'd been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour, de Westertoren, Krijtberg, a dark edge to the clangor, an inwrought fairy-tale sense of doom. By day I sat on the foot of the bed straining to puzzle out the Dutch-language news on television (which was hopeless, since I knew not a word of Dutch) and when I gave up, I sat by the window staring out at the canal with my camel's-hair coat thrown over my clothes—for I'd left New York in a hurry and the things I'd brought weren't warm enough, even indoors.

Outside, all was activity and cheer. It was Christmas, lights twinkling on the canal bridges at night; red-cheeked dames en heren, scarves flying in the icy wind, clattered down the cobblestones with Christmas trees lashed to the backs of their bicycles. In the afternoons, an amateur band played Christmas carols that hung tinny and fragile in the winter air.

Chaotic room-service trays; too many cigarettes; lukewarm vodka from duty free. During those restless, shut-up days, I got to know every inch of the room as a prisoner comes to know his cell. It was my first time in Amsterdam; I'd seen almost nothing of the city and yet the room itself, in its bleak, drafty, sunscrubbed beauty, gave a keen sense of Northern Europe, a model of the Netherlands in miniature: whitewash and Protestant probity, co-mingled with deep-dyed luxury brought in merchant ships from the East. I spent an unreasonable amount of time scrutinizing a tiny pair of gilt-framed oils hanging over the bureau, one of peasants skating on an ice-pond by a church, the other a sailboat flouncing on a choppy winter sea: decorative copies, nothing special, though I studied them as if they held, encrypted, some key to the secret heart of the old Flemish masters. Outside, sleet tapped at the windowpanes and drizzled over the canal; and though the brocades were rich and the carpet was soft, still the winter light carried a chilly tone of 1943, privation and austerities, weak tea without sugar and hungry to bed.

Early every morning while it was still black out, before the extra clerks came on duty and the lobby started filling up, I walked downstairs for the newspapers. The hotel staff moved with hushed voices and quiet footsteps, eyes gliding across me coolly as if they didn't quite see me, the American man in 27 who never came down during the day; and I tried to reassure myself that the night manager (dark suit, crew cut, horn-rimmed glasses) would probably go to some lengths to avert trouble or avoid a fuss.

The Herald Tribune had no news of my predicament but the story was all over the Dutch papers, dense blocks of foreign print which hung, tantalizingly, just beyond the reach of my comprehension. Onopgeloste moord. Onbekende. I went upstairs and got back into bed (fully clad, because the room was so cold) and spread the papers out on the coverlet: photographs of police cars, crime scene tape, even the captions were impossible to decipher, and although they didn't appear to have my name, there was no way to know if they had a description of me or if they were withholding information from the public.

The room. The radiator. Een Amerikaan met een strafblad. Olive green water of the canal.

Because I was cold and ill, and much of the time at a loss what to do (I'd neglected to bring a book, as well as warm clothes), I stayed in bed most of the day. Night seemed to fall in the middle of the afternoon. Often—amidst the crackle of strewn newspapers—I drifted in and out of sleep, and my dreams for the most part were muddied with the same indeterminate anxiety that bled through into my waking hours: court cases, luggage burst open on the tarmac with my clothes scattered everywhere and endless airport corridors where I ran for planes I knew I'd never make.

Thanks to my fever I had a lot of weird and extremely vivid dreams, sweats where I thrashed around hardly knowing if it was day or night, but on the last and worst of these nights I dreamed about my mother: a quick, mysterious dream that felt more like a visitation. I was in Hobie's shop—or, more accurately, some haunted dream space staged like a sketchy version of the shop—when she came up suddenly behind me so I saw her reflection in a mirror. At the sight of her I was paralyzed with happiness; it was her, down to the most minute detail, the very pattern of her freckles, she was smiling at me, more beautiful and yet not older, black hair and funny upward quirk of her mouth, not a dream but a presence that filled the whole room: a force all her own, a living otherness. And as much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn't turn around, that to look at her directly was to violate the laws of her world and mine; she had come to me the only way she could, and our eyes met in the glass for a long still moment; but just as she seemed about to speak—with what seemed a combination of amusement, affection, exasperation—a vapor rolled between us and I woke up.


ii.

Things would have turned out better if she had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that's happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.

Her death the dividing mark: Before and After. And though it's a bleak thing to admit all these years later, still I've never met anyone who made me feel loved the way she did. Everything came alive in her company; she cast a charmed theatrical light about her so that to see anything through her eyes was to see it in brighter colors than ordinary—I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of a birthday cake with lit candles being carried in procession from the kitchen, faint circle of light wavering in across the dark ceiling and then the cake set down to blaze amidst the family, beatifying an old lady's face, smiles all round, waiters stepping away with their hands behind their backs—just an ordinary birthday dinner you might see anywhere in an inexpensive downtown restaurant, and I'm sure I wouldn't even remember it had she not died so soon after, but I thought about it again and again after her death and indeed I'll probably think about it all my life: that candlelit circle, a tableau vivant of the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her.

She was beautiful, too. That's almost secondary; but still, she was. When she came to New York fresh from Kansas, she worked part-time as a model though she was too uneasy in front of the camera to be very good at it; whatever she had, it didn't translate to film.

And yet she was wholly herself: a rarity. I cannot recall ever seeing another person who really resembled her. She had black hair, fair skin that freckled in summer, china-blue eyes with a lot of light in them; and in the slant of her cheekbones there was such an eccentric mixture of the tribal and the Celtic Twilight that sometimes people guessed she was Icelandic. In fact, she was half Irish, half Cherokee, from a town in Kansas near the Oklahoma border; and she liked to make me laugh by calling herself an Okie even though she was as glossy and nervy and stylish as a racehorse. That exotic character unfortunately comes out a little too stark and unforgiving in photographs—her freckles covered with makeup, her hair pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of her neck like some nobleman in The Tale of Genji—and what doesn't come across at all is her warmth, her merry, unpredictable quality, which is what I loved about her most. It's clear, from the stillness she emanates in pictures, how much she mistrusted the camera; she gives off a watchful, tigerish air of steeling herself against attack. But in life she wasn't like that. She moved with a thrilling quickness, gestures sudden and light, always perched on the edge of her chair like some long elegant marsh-bird about to startle and fly away. I loved the sandalwood perfume she wore, rough and unexpected, and I loved the rustle of her starched shirt when she swooped down to kiss me on the forehead. And her laugh was enough to make you want to kick over what you were doing and follow her down the street. Wherever she went, men looked at her out of the corner of their eyes, and sometimes they used to look at her in a way that bothered me a little.

Her death was my fault. Other people have always been a little too quick to assure me that it wasn't; and yes, only a kid, who could have known, terrible accident, rotten luck, could have happened to anyone, it's all perfectly true and I don't believe a word of it.

It happened in New York, April 10th, fourteen years ago. (Even my hand balks at the date; I had to push to write it down, just to keep the pen moving on the paper. It used to be a perfectly ordinary day but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail.)

If the day had gone as planned, it would have faded into the sky unmarked, swallowed without a trace along with the rest of my eighth-grade year. What would I remember of it now? Little or nothing. But of course the texture of that morning is clearer than the present, down to the drenched, wet feel of the air. It had rained in the night, a terrible storm, shops were flooded and a couple of subway stations closed; and the two of us were standing on the squelching carpet outside our apartment building while her favorite doorman, Goldie, who adored her, walked backwards down Fifty-Seventh with his arm up, whistling for a taxi. Cars whooshed by in sheets of dirty spray; rain-swollen clouds tumbled high above the skyscrapers, blowing and shifting to patches of clear blue sky, and down below, on the street, beneath the exhaust fumes, the wind felt damp and soft like spring.

"Ah, he's full, my lady," Goldie called over the roar of the street, stepping out of the way as a taxi splashed round the corner and shut its light off. He was the smallest of the doormen: a wan, thin, lively little guy, light-skinned Puerto Rican, a former featherweight boxer. Though he was pouchy in the face from drinking (sometimes he turned up on the night shift smelling of J&B), still he was wiry and muscular and quick—always kidding around, always having a cigarette break on the corner, shifting from foot to foot and blowing on his white-gloved hands when it was cold, telling jokes in Spanish and cracking the other doormen up.

"You in a big hurry this morning?" he asked my mother. His nametag said BURT D. but everyone called him Goldie because of his gold tooth and because his last name, de Oro, meant "gold" in Spanish.

"No, plenty of time, we're fine." But she looked exhausted and her hands were shaky as she re-tied her scarf, which snapped and fluttered in the wind.

Goldie must have noticed this himself, because he glanced over at me (backed up evasively against the concrete planter in front of the building, looking anywhere but at her) with an air of slight disapproval.

"You're not taking the train?" he said to me.

"Oh, we've got some errands," said my mother, without much conviction, when she realized I didn't know what to say. Normally I didn't pay much attention to her clothes, but what she had on that morning (white trenchcoat, filmy pink scarf, black and white two-tone loafers) is so firmly burned into my memory that now it's difficult for me to remember her any other way.

I was thirteen. I hate to remember how awkward we were with each other that last morning, stiff enough for the doorman to notice; any other time we would have been talking companionably enough, but that morning we didn't have much to say to each other because I'd been suspended from school. They'd called her at her office the day before; she'd come home silent and furious; and the awful thing was that I didn't even know what I'd been suspended for, although I was about seventy-five percent sure that Mr. Beeman (en route from his office to the teachers' lounge) had looked out the window of the second-floor landing at exactly the wrong moment and seen me smoking on school property. (Or, rather, seen me standing around with Tom Cable while he smoked, which at my school amounted to practically the same offense.) My mother hated smoking. Her parents—whom I loved hearing stories about, and who had unfairly died before I'd had the chance to know them—had been affable horse trainers who travelled around the west and raised Morgan horses for a living: cocktail-drinking, canasta- playing livelies who went to the Kentucky Derby every year and kept cigarettes in silver boxes around the house. Then my grandmother doubled over and started coughing blood one day when she came in from the stables; and for the rest of my mother's teenage years, there had been oxygen tanks on the front porch and bedroom shades that stayed pulled down.

But—as I feared, and not without reason—Tom's cigarette was only the tip of the iceberg. I'd been in trouble at school for a while. It had all started, or begun to snowball rather, when my father had run off and left my mother and me some months before; we'd never liked him much, and my mother and I were generally much happier without him, but other people seemed shocked and distressed at the abrupt way he'd abandoned us (without money, child support, or forwarding address), and the teachers at my school on the Upper West Side had been so sorry for me, so eager to extend their understanding and support, that they'd given me—a scholarship student—all sorts of special allowances and delayed deadlines and second and third chances: feeding out the rope, over a matter of months, until I'd managed to lower myself into a very deep hole.

So the two of us—my mother and I—had been called in for a conference at school. The meeting wasn't until eleven-thirty but since my mother had been forced to take the morning off, we were heading to the West Side early—for breakfast (and, I expected, a serious talk) and so she could buy a birthday present for someone she worked with. She'd been up until two-thirty the night before, her face tense in the glow of the computer, writing emails and trying to clear the decks for her morning out of the office.

"I don't know about you," Goldie was saying to my mother, rather fiercely, "but I say enough with all this spring and damp already. Rain, rain—" He shivered, pulled his collar closer in pantomime and glanced at the sky.

"I think it's supposed to clear up this afternoon."

"Yeah, I know, but I'm ready for summer." Rubbing his hands. "People leave town, they hate it, complain about the heat, but me—I'm a tropical bird. Hotter the better. Bring it on!" Clapping, backing on his heels down the street. "And—tell you what I love the best, is how it quietens out here, come July—? building all empty and sleepy, everyone away, you know?" Snapping his fingers, cab speeding by. "That's my vacation."

"But don't you burn up out here?" My standoffish dad had hated this about her—her tendency to engage in conversation with waitresses, doormen, the wheezy old guys at the dry cleaner's. "I mean, in winter, at least you can put on an extra coat—"

"Listen, you're working the door in winter? I'm telling you it gets cold. I don't care how many coats and hats you put on. You're standing out here, in January, February, and the wind is blowing in off the river? Brrr."
(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Copyright © 2013 Donna Tartt. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
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