Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging


June 2014

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt, A Christian Listener’s Review

image At one time when a good book approached 800 pages I would read it from cover to cover. However, my tendency to get sleepy, busy, hungry rather than settling in with a good LONG book has made reading a long “Dickensian” tome less appealing. Also, I discovered the AUDIO book, which makes the time in the car pass more quickly and I love being read to as well as reading. So having discovered THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014) on audio CD (26 of them), I checked it out of the library.

David Pittu, narrator of the A-Z children’s mysteries, 39 Clues books and many other children’s fiction works brings Donna Tartt’s characters, words, and plot to life. So he accompanied Terry, my brother Tom, and I on our trip to Lake Wales, FL on May 20th, on short trips while we were there for two weeks and home to Nortonville, KY on June 1st as we entered the life of Theodore Decker from age 14 to age 28.

The novel opens with Theodore (Theo) alone, burning up with fever and with fear in an Amsterdam hotel room. In a state of delusion and personal angst he begins to dream about his mother and the tragedy that took her life 14 years before, a fictional act of terror set at the New York Metropolitan Art Gallery. As Stephen King points out in his review of this novel in October 2013, the whole of the novel turns on “happenstance”, a rain storm in New York City and a quick duck into the museum. The bomb, the encounter with a dying old man, a ring, a snatched work of art, followed by the desolate hours that follow while Theo stumbles home to wait for his mother. Audrey Decker has been Theo’s true north, his moral compass and she will know exactly what to do. But, Audrey did not survive the explosion.

Throughout the novel listening to Theo’s conversations and thoughts as he finds refuge first with the wealthy but not so mentally healthy Barbour family, we were aware of the effects of Theo’s choices, some good–returning the dying old man’s ring and meeting James Hobart “Hobie”, a good hearted talented if somewhat clueless man, who would become the single most stable permanent person in his life post the museum bombing and his theft of The Goldfinch. But even with Hobie Theo shares little of the agonizing child, young man, adult illusions, delusions, altered state fantasies that plague him.

Donna Tartt does share those through passage after passage of dense, visual language brought to life in narration by David Pittu and frankly, I admit it, if I had been reading and not listening to this book, there are passages I would have skipped to just get on with the story which at times got lost in the words. However, I was not reading, I was listening and there were times I wanted to jump into some his conversations, especially with Boris, the only friend, another abandoned boy that he makes after his father returns to whisk him away to the outskirts of Las Vegas, and yell at both of them. And his stream of consciousness led my husband to state as we drove, “He way over thinks things.”

Some say the book is about grief and it is, but the overriding theme to me was abandonment. From the moment his father left Theo and his mother to the major vortex created by the terrorist attack, Theo was sucked into a vacuum that according to the principle “nature abhors a vacuum” filled quickly with his obsession with the painting, his need for human touch, drugs, alcohol, because those were the things that were there. Without his mother, he had no one and would allow no one to steer him to the moral or spiritual high ground.

As a Christian, I could not help but sense his alienation with God and although he denied it “his need for that God” WHO he felt abandoned by. I could not help but notice that no one he encountered at his points of crisis as they happened steered him to Christ. Hogie came the closest, but fell short. The closest point came from Boris of all people near the conclusion of the story with a fractured parable that combined, the Prodigal Son with the faithful steward with a few other thrown in.

Even at the end of the book, Theo setting out to make things right as strong feeling of loneliness fills his thoughts. In some ways I so wanted to reach out at times and shake him or hug him or…But it was only a story. And yet I wonder how many lost souls I encounter daily filled with dense delusions, illusions, fears and fantasies, who feel abandoned by God.

Questions from a Friend: “Can Intolerance promote Tolerance?”

imageI am lactose intolerant. So trust me on this, whether a single word I write after this makes sense, it is in everyone around me’s best interest that I do not have milk, cheese, ice cream, etc. Of course, I have discovered lactose free dairy products and I do enjoy these. Nevertheless, no amount of the “hair of the dog” in my case lactose products will make me tolerate them more. I don’t hate them. In fact, I am quite a fan of ice cream and do cheat at times, but the consequences are not pretty.

So NERD that I am, I looked up the word Tolerance and the following touches on several factions of that definition:

1 capacity to endure pain or hardship : endurance, fortitude, stamina

2 a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own b : the act of allowing something : toleration

3 the allowable deviation from a standard; especially : the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece

4 a : the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure ; also : the immunological state marked by unresponsiveness to a specific antigen b : relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor

5 the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that may lawfully remain on or in food

Should we settle for tolerance? Should we view our fellow human beings with a form of sympathy that sees those different from ourselves as victims? Should we choose to hold our tongues when someone obviously is making choices that are detrimental to them? Shall we embrace an attitude of indifference, so that we merely TOLERATE those who are different from ourselves?

Or as a Christian I ask myself shall I do what Jesus commanded:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35 NIV)

There was an ad campaign a few years ago to curb driving under the influence that asked the question: “Would a friend let a friend drive drunk?” And there are so many other endings appropriate to that question. I may love someone deeply and yet not ‘tolerate’ their choices. I may have to ask myself some tough questions as to my motive and my intent and I certainly will need to pray, but “Would a friend let a friend ….?”

Can intolerance promote tolerance? And Really, IS tolerance the answer. Or is there a finer goal for living in a free, society governed by laws such as the USA which is based on the premise that “all…are created equal”? Will we become a society of people who indulge ANYTHING as long as it is progressive, popular, and promoted in every venue? For those who are Christians, as I am, will we allow the masses who choose the broad road to destruction to march to blindly to hell? Or will we LOVE like the Master and snatch them from “sin and the grave”?

Today, Lord, help me love like Jesus loves and speak truth like He spoke and treat all persons as those for whom Christ died. Amen

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