Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

  Summary (Amazon): 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, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: amazing

So I have been reading this behemoth of a book since the 4th of July. It’s been on my shelf waiting to be read since last summer, but I haven’t had the time to set aside to actually do it. The book recommendation came from a random place. While we were on vacation last summer, we took a sunset ride on a sailboat. Also on this boat ride was a family who we have dubbed “the best family ever”. Because honestly, they seemed so great. The parents worked for the School of Rock, which is actually a real place, not just the Jack Black movie. They had 2 biological college age daughters and one adopted (also college age) daughter, and all were amazingly well-spoken and just very cool. One of the daughters was an avid reader and recommended this book as a must-read.

Maybe her opinion biased me, but I really liked this book, and I thought it was worth the time spent.

Theo Decker lives with his mom; his dad left them and has not made contact. Theo is a smart kid who isn’t applying himself, and he finds himself suspended from school. He and his mother have to go into the school to discuss, and en route, they stop into the Met along the way when it starts to rain. Theo’s mother studied art history at NYU and wants to see a painting that is at the museum, The Goldfinch by Fabritius. It was her favorite as a child, and the tale of how Fabritius died in a fire in Delft with most of his artwork makes it even more rare. While at the museum, Theo finds himself mesmerized by another patron, a pale red haired girl with a man who looks to be her grandfather. When they are approaching the time to go, Theo’s mother tells him to meet her in the gift shop, but she wants to go back and get a look at another painting on display. An explosion occurs in the museum, and when Theo awakes, he has no idea what has happened. He realizes that the grandfather is in the room with him, and is struggling to stay alive. Theo finds some water, gives it to the man, and stays with him until he passes. The man gives Theo his ring and tells him to go to Hobart and Blackwell and ring the green bell. In his delirium, he also suggests to Theo that he take The Goldfinch (which has fallen from the wall in the blast) away from here, which Theo does.

Theo is unsure of his mother’s whereabouts, but when he exits the museum, he sees that they are preparing for an additional explosion. The plan is to always meet back at the house so he heads there expecting that she will eventually return. But she doesn’t. Eventually child protective services arrives. They ask him about his father, but he doesn’t know his father’s whereabouts. They allow him to go to stay with his friend Andy’s family until his grandparents or father can be located. Andy’s family is wealthy, but Andy is the nerdy odd duck of the bunch with his siblings Platt who is older and bullies him and the younger popular Kitsie and Toddy. As best as he can due to his traumatic experiences, Theo is happy at the Barbours, however, once he recovers somewhat, he remembers about the old man and his ring. He tracks down Hobart and Blackwell, rings the green bell, and he finds that the old man was Blackwell. Hobart “Hobie” is still there and explains a bit of the history. Hobie and “Welty” (Blackwell) were business partners dealing predominately in antique furniture. Hobie was the craftsman, and Welty was the salesman. Theo immediately likes Hobie, and is even more drawn to the shop when he finds out that the red haired girl from the museum is also there recovering until she heads to Texas with her aunt. In the meantime, Theo and Pippa become good friends.

One fateful day however, his father arrives with his new girlfriend Xandra. Theo is going with them to Las Vegas. Xandra works in a casino, and Theo’s father is a “professional” gambler. In general, Theo hates his life in Las Vegas, the only bright spot being his friendship with Boris, a Ukranian boy in a similar situation (no mother, deadbeat father). With no attentive parents, the two slip into a pattern of drugs, alcohol, and reckless abandon. They aren’t the only ones. Theo’s father is in trouble with gambling debts. Thugs are showing up at the house when Theo is home, and his father even tries to convince Theo to contact his mother’s lawyer for some of his inheritance. (He can’t withdraw it.) Theo’s father gets drunk and kills himself in a car accident. (This section in Las Vegas went on too long for my taste.)

Once Xandra is passed out after the funeral, Boris and Theo steal her money and drugs, and Theo leaves to head back to New York with the painting and Xandra’s dog who she never took care of anyway. When he finally gets back into New York, dirty and exhausted, he sees Mr. Barbour in Central Park. Mr. Barbour is off of his medication and scares Theo to the point that he has no interest in returning there or even with getting in touch with Andy. He heads to Hobie’s and asks if he can stay. Hobie agrees. Pippa is there again, on break from her school for broken girls, and they reconnect. Eventually Xandra calls and tells Theo that he’s just like his father. However, CPS allows Theo to stay with Hobie while he attends an early college program that he tested into.

The book then skips ahead eight years. We learn that Theo never did that well in school, and eventually returned to help Hobie at the store, taking the place of Welty when the past due notices begin to come in. Theo is wrought with problems. He still has The Goldfinch which stresses him constantly although it’s now in a storage unit. He is addicted to drugs, and he has also taken to selling counterfeit furniture to get the business into the black. He bumps into Platt on the street and becomes reconnected with the Barbours. However, Andy and Mr. Barbour died in a boating accident a few months prior. Theo agrees to dine with the rest of the family at their place since Mrs. Barbour no longer leaves to reconnect, and soon a relationship develops between Theo and Kitsey, although for both, it’s more a matter of appearance. Theo still loves Pippa (who has a boyfriend she lives with in London), and Kitsey is emotionally detached.

One of the people who Theo sold phony merchandise to has figured it out, and he confronts Theo. Theo returns his money plus some, hoping to buy it back and have it settled. However, Lucius Reeve has other ideas. He doesn’t cash the check or return the furniture, and one day confronts Theo with a thought. Lucius believes that Theo stole The Goldfinch from the museum since he was in that room when it was bombed, and Lucius is not above blackmailing Theo and Hobie for it. Obviously Theo is panicking since he still has The Goldfinch in a paid-in-cash storage unit. However, he can’t go check on it without being tracked. Theo’s anxiety is getting the best of him between the fraudulent furniture sales, Lucius Reeve and The Goldfinch and his upcoming wedding to Kitsey with all the parties and schmoozing that accompany it. He takes some time away from her to go see a movie, but ends up wandering around the city with a plan to find drugs. What he does find…is Boris!

It’s not clear what Boris has been up to or what his job actually entails, but it’s presumed to be a bit shady. (No one expected any differently.) In a surprise twist however, Boris reveals that many years ago when they lived in Las Vegas, Theo was blasted and showed Boris the painting. And Boris as a teenage joke, stole it. He meant to give it back, but Theo left in such a hurry, he wasn’t able to. Eventually Boris sells it, and he tells Theo that he will get it back. The pair go visit an associate of Boris’s who doesn’t really know what happened to it, however, through the behavior of the associate’s girlfriend during the meeting, Boris pieces together that her brother is the one who has it.

Boris makes an appearance at the end of Theo’s engagement party (where an associate of Mr. Reeves’ has been threatening him) and tells Theo to pack because they have a lead. Theo and Boris head to Amsterdam through separate routes and reconvene upon arrival. Theo is the American buyer, and they go to the meeting place where there are only 2 people waiting for them. They overtake the men, take the painting, and think they have made a clean getaway. However, a young boy in the restaurant saw what happened and gets the others. Boris and Theo are stopped on the way back to the hotel and a shoot out occurs. Boris is injured in the attack, but the big shock is that Theo shoots and kills one of the men. Boris keeps his cool in the situation. He sends Theo back to the hotel to await his call, and presumably he goes to take care of his arm.

Theo continues to wait for Boris’s call growing more impatient by the minute. His passport is still in the car that they drove to the rendezvous. After trying to get a new passport through the embassy (and failing), he tries to sneak to Paris via train (also failing). Then hee begins to concoct a plan. He writes letters to all the important people in his life–Hobie, Pippa, Kitsey, and Mrs. Barbour, and then does a bunch of drugs. However, the plan is not to commit suicide. The plan is go have a good night and then turn himself in. But before he gets the opportunity, Boris reappears with a bunch of money that he is giving to Theo. Boris indirectly called in an anonymous tip that led to locating the painting and many other pieces of stolen artwork.

Theo returns to the USA and confesses the entire story to Hobie. With his new windfall and essentially new life, Theo sets off to refund the money for all the counterfeit furniture that he sold over the years. He’s still engaged to Kitsey but still a part of him is hoping that something happens with Pippa. The book ends philosophically. One bad decision (stealing the painting) eventually led to a good outcome (recovering it and many other paintings). What does that mean about a person’s innate behavior? What is the meaning of the painting of The Goldfinch itself. A chained bird who looks content in its surroundings.

Verdict: 4.5 stars

I thought this was easily one of the best books I’ve read. The author seems so knowledgeable about everything she wrote about–from art to furniture to drugs. It made this fictional story seem like a real auto-biography. Definitely worth the time commitment.

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The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

 Summary (Amazon): The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: Sweet

This is our love/romance book for book club this year. Partway through, I told my husband that I was reading a love story book and really liking it, and he said something along the lines of, “Are you feeling OK?” Needless to say, this is typically not the sort of genre I’m interested in. But this book isn’t typical. This book is written by a man (not too unusual given the popularity of Nicholas Sparks) but also the main character is a man, Don Tillman. Don is a socially awkward genetics professor in his late 30s. With encouragement from a fellow professor, Gene, and his wife Claudia (his only friends), Don embarks on the wife project after many failed dates.  The wife project is a questionnaire to which Don has already selected one acceptable answer for each. There are no gray areas. Don collects a variety of completed questionnaires from various sources, and he discusses the results with Gene. Due to Gene’s own research (trying to have sex with a woman from every country), he tells Don that he will take the questionnaires, review them, and select some candidates who may be worth some compromises. Shortly thereafter, a woman arrives at Tillman’s office at Gene’s request. Don asks her to dinner that evening to which she sarcastically suggests (presumably) an expensive place. Don doesn’t understand the nuance and agrees.  He calls Gene who will reveal nothing except that her name is Rosie. Don arrives at the restaurant that evening and is wearing his very practical clothing for biking there. He is not allowed to enter the restaurant without a jacket (read: sport coat) as the place has a dress coat. Don argues that he is in fact wearing a very expensive jacket and ends up getting into a fight with the doorman, knocking him down with his aikido skills just as Rosie arrives. The two leave, and go back to Don’s house where he cooks dinner. The same dinner he cooks every single Tuesday. He learns that Rosie is on a mission to figure out who her real father is because her eye color, brown, is impossible with two blue eyed parents (my uncle has brown eyes and two blue eyed parents too). Eventually Don calls Rosie a taxi and she leaves. He calls Claudia to ask what Gene was thinking with Rosie since she smokes, drinks, is mostly a vegetarian (but will eat sustainable seafood), does not follow an exact timeline, and has dyed hair. Gene is not there, and has told his wife he had been hanging out with Don. Despite knowing that Rosie is unsuitable for the wife project, the geneticist comes out in Don, and he decides that he ought to help Rosie find her father. He knows where she works and tracks her down at the gay bar where she works. Rosie tells Don to call her. The meet the following day and begin to form a plan. Rosie believes that her father is a man who graduated with her mother from medical school, specifically someone who was at the graduation party. She has a few main potential candidates to begin with, so they start there. The first one is a family friend, so Rosie schedules an appointment to go see him and his wife, getting his DNA in the meantime. Unfortunately it is not a match. Rosie and Don go grab some dinner and drinks (even though Don has his daily dinner ingredients at home). There, they see Gene and one of the applicants of the Wife Project. At the end of the night, Don asks Rosie who is next, and she suggests two additional family friends. Rosie and Don make appointments to meet with both of the potential fathers. The first has died from prostate cancer, so they meet his daughter and steal some hair from her brush. The other is now a faculty member at a university, and they meet at a coffee shop, where Rosie inquires about attending medical school there. Don is simultaneously impressed with her fake credentials and also a little embarrassed since she is only a bartender. They obtain DNA off of the coffee cup, and return to his lab to check both. Neither is the father. Rosie, disappointed, leaves. Don is hooked on the Father Project and begins doing some internet research. Don finds pictures of the graduation class and the graduation party. He locates a discussion board where he finds that the 30 year reunion is coming up in three weeks. He goes back to the gay bar to find Rosie, but she is not working. Don realizes he knows very little about Rosie, but reappears the following night when the bar opens to speak to her, but she asks him to come back at closing when she isn’t busy–at 3AM. Don is shocked, but he agrees. When he returns, he convinces Rosie to pull some strings to be a bartender at the reunion. Rosie appears at Don’s apartment two days later to inform him that they are BOTH bartending at the reunion, and she leaves him a copy of The Bartender’s Companion to review. The event goes swimmingly with Don having memorized the cocktail book and having an exceptional memory for drink orders and names. They manage to get a bunch of samples, however, none are a match. While they are running the tests, Don informs Rosie that he is not interested in her as a partner, and she says that she understands and agrees. So he asks her why she applied for the Wife Project, and to no one’s surprise, she didn’t. Gene and she had a bet and that’s why she showed up at Don’s office. She is a bit aghast at the whole sexist idea of the Wife Project, and when Don refers to her as a barmaid, she clarifies that she is a PhD student in psychology and walks out. Luckily for Don, he has an applicant to the Wife Project who meets all the requirements. One minor issue for Don though is that the candidate, Bianca, is an accomplished ballroom dancer, and she expects her partner to be as well. Don RSVPs to the faculty ball and begins practicing his steps. He’s distracted though by the thought of Rosie and the Father Project (despite her not being around) and conversations with Claudia about his feelings. When Don and Bianca arrive at the reception, Rosie is there too, with her date, Stefan. Stefan is aggressive toward Don, and eventually takes the microphone from the band to announce that there is a former national dancing champion in their midst. So Don and Bianca are drawn out to the floor to dance, which is a complete train wreck. Bianca leaves, embarrassed. Rosie is furious with Stefan for behaving that way. Rosie saves the day by taking Don back out to dance, revealing little secrets of her life. Her mother realized that Rosie wasn’t Phil’s when her eyes changed from blue to brown, and then she told Phil. And he was “all over the place” like once he promised to take her to Disneyland, and she told everyone at school, but he never took her. Don takes Rosie home, and she asks him to come upstairs. He says no. When she asks him if he finds her attractive, he says “I haven’t really noticed.” Ugh! Come on, Don!!! In fairness, Don realizes he screwed up, and he schedules a run with Gene to discuss. Gene agrees as long as Don brings him Bianca’s contact info. Gene suggests that Don do a bit more research into two-person sex. lol. As he is doing research in his office, the Dean arrives. She brings with her one of the doctors from the reunion who was a Father Project candidate to discuss funding. Don goes to talk to Rosie about sex, which is even more awkward than imaginable as Stefan is there, and Rosie dismisses Don fully, even the Father Project. Don sulks for a while, talking to Claudia, and continuing the Father Project on his own, narrowing it down to only a few candidates. He begins loitering in the cafeteria to “accidentally” catch Rosie. On the third day, she appears, and he asks her to go to New York with him so that they can get two of the three final candidates. Eventually she agrees, and Don decides to collect the final sample which is a long drive away. But he doesn’t test it because he still wants the excuse to go to New York! When they get to New York, Don reluctantly agrees to relinquish two days’ plans to Rosie’s schedule. She gets him to break free from his schedule and experience some new things including a baseball game where Don made a new friend and was introduced to baseball stats. They manage to get all the samples they need, and one of the potential candidates figures out what they are doing and gives Don a warning.  Don and Rosie are growing closer over the trip, and they get to being intimate, and Don awkwardly gives Rosie the sexual positions book that Gene gave him for the trip. Rosie changes her mind. On the trip back, Don does some soul searching and realizes that he really likes Rosie, and he needs to make some changes.  Don meets with Gene and realizes that Gene was the one who took the graduation photo they have been using for the Father Project, so Don takes Gene’s DNA too. Don meets Rosie the following week to check the four samples, and he asks her if she might consider him as a partner. She dismisses him because he doesn’t know how to love, doesn’t understand social interaction, and can’t not have a schedule. He decides to rectify these. Don breaks his weekly menu schedule and starts trying new things. Gene tells Don that people have never taken him seriously and everyone always just regards him as a buffoon. Don tells Gene to grow up and stop treating Claudia like crap.  The final father candidate is Phil so Don schedules a personal training session with him to collect a sample and also to question him about Rosie. Phil does not understand why Rosie has hung onto the Disneyland thing forever and tries to convince Don that he tried to be a good parent. Don continues his changes and gets a new wardrobe and a new haircut and then invites Rosie to dinner at the restaurant where he previously was kicked out. He plans on proposing to her but she leaves before he can, upset that he can’t love her.  When Don eventually goes into his office, he finds the roses he has given to Rosie along with a note saying that she knows who the napkin belongs to (Gene). Don rushes to fix the miscommunication and finds Rosie and Claudia in the cafeteria. Phil and Gene appear with Gene looking worse for the wear. Rosie agrees to marry Don. And Don has tickets for he, Rosie and Phil to go to Disneyland!  Rosie and Don get married and move to New York, and it’s revealed that Phil actually is Rosie’s father.

Verdict: 4 stars

This is definitely one of the better love stories I’ve read, and certainly a fun modern take on it. My only real issue with it was that it ended so quickly and predictably, but certainly certainly not enough to sway my opinion of the entire book. Apparently a movie version will be coming out soon. I’ll probably wait until it comes available for borrow.

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