Recap: When a young boy loses his mother in a terroristic attack inside a New York City museum, it’s hard to picture where the plot will go. But then that boy, Theo, steals a painting, the famous “Goldfinch” painting, and runs off. His chance meeting with an old man after the attack encourages him to get in touch with the old man’s business partner, Hobie, and niece, who was also at the museum during the explosion. The story takes us through the next 15 years of the boy’s life, all spent with his infamously stolen painting as he continues to struggle with the loss of his mother. Along the way, Theo meets and makes new friends. Theo and the painting start their journey together in New York, living with his friend Andy, then a brief, but impactful stint in Las Vegas, where he befriends Boris, back to New York and finally one last life-altering trip. But as Theo works to put his life back together and prove to his dead mother and himself that he’s fine on his own, one question remains: what will he do with the painting? If he returns it, he faces jail time for theft. If he keeps it, he remains involved in the one of the biggest art heists in history — accidental or not.
Analysis: It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have written a 700+ page book about a painting of a bird, but it happens, and dare I say, I’m glad it did. “The Goldfinch” painting is a very obvious symbol and metaphor for Theo. Like the bird in the painting, Theo is chained down, unable to free himself from the painting or the guilt suffered from death of his mother. With both intact, it’s impossible for Theo to move on. The journey he takes to reach that moment of freedom is long and dark, but worth it for the payoff. Theo works so hard to be like his mother — intelligent and kind, but without her there, he becomes more like his father, full of lies and cheating. His life becomes a horrible cycle of bad things happening to him followed by bad choices he makes. The Goldfinch is full of metaphors, besides “The Goldfinch” itself. For instance, Theo comes to love refurbishing antique furniture, but author Donna Tarttl makes it a point to include that he most enjoys taking pieces apart and putting them back together again — the one thing he wishes he could do with his life but can’t. Theo is sad. “The Goldfinch” is sad. And The Goldfinch is sad. But in following Theo’s long, harsh story, we — along with Theo — learn what’s important in life and that it’s possible to overcome the things one doesn’t expect to have to overcome.
MVP: Hobie. One of the few completely likable characters in the novel, Hobie means well and does well. He is the only living person always there for Theo in exactly the way he needs, and in the moment when Theo acknowledges that he’s lied to and taken advantage of Hobie, my heart broke for him. Get The Goldfinch in hardcover for $18. Or on your Kindle for $6.99.