Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On "The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt ***

Last week, while I was in the midst of reading Donna Tartt's most recent novel, I went to see Gus Van Sant's most recent film, Paranoid Park. The former was perhaps the most powerful piece of filmmaking Van Sant has done to date. Tartt's novel, by contrast, was something of a disappointment to me. Like Van Sant's film, Tartt's novel centers on a kid in over her head, a kid involved with a murder, but the book never comes together quite as well. I'm not sure what it wants to be--comedy, tragedy, young adult book. Nor did I care much for the characters. Perhaps one word that could be used to describe the book is "southern," as it seems quite grotesque in those unfortunate southern ways (I'm reminded of Flannery O'Connor, for example, whose appeal, beyond "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," has never spoken to me). In some ways, Tartt's book is also like a kids' book--or feels like it--a young adult novel. And that is not a good thing, either, for me at least, as part of the reason I disliked reading when younger was because I tried to read young adults books and rarely found them intriguing. (Paranoid Parkinterestingly is based on a YA book, but the film somehow managed to seem quite adult.) As usual, Tartt's writing is good in this most recent venture, but often I felt, as I read, like I could see her pulling the strings. Perhaps part of this feeling is related to the fact that she chose to write in an omniscient voice, something one doesn't see much anymore and which, while gutsy, seems rather fake in this perspectival postmodern literary world. Readers looking for their first Donna Tartt experience might be better venturing into her amazing previous novel, The Secret History. I thought about parts of that book for years afterward.

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