Thursday, August 25, 2016

Then We Came to the End - Joshua Ferris (2007)

I first heard about Then We Came to the End when it came out back in 2007.  I was taking a writing class at the time at StoryStudio Chicago and one of my classmates mentioned it.  I remember nothing substantive about the comment, but my guess is that it had something to do with its narrative voice.  The first thing that most people hear about this book is that it is written in the first-person plural (i.e. "We" rather than "I").  The second thing most people hear about this book is that it is about life at an ad agency during a period of layoffs.  It is about office life. Because of its "experimental" narrative voice, it reminded me of Bright Lights, Big City, which was written in the second-person. Both are very good books, but I actually liked this one slightly better.  I'm flirting with whether to add it to the "best books reviewed on Flying Houses" list.

I will say this about one of the characters.  You know how sometimes, when you forget your password for something on the internet, they ask you a secret question to confirm your identity?  Sometimes that question is, "who is your favorite fictional character" and I never have a good answer.  Well, this book gave me a good answer, for once.  I mean, anybody can say Holden Caulfield, anybody can.  That's easy to guess.  But now I have a good answer: Tom Mota.  And I'm probably really screwing that up by writing about it, but so be it.  Tom Mota is a great character; he's sort of everything I wish I could be in a professional setting--but that would never be acceptable.  He's a kind of fantasy character.  Take, for example, the epic e-mails he writes addressed to everyone in their office:

"The subject line read, 'I Consign You and Your Golf Shoes to Lower Wacker Driver.' 'The tomatoes in my garden are not coming out,' he continued.  'Maybe because I only have the weekend to work the garden, or maybe because the garden keeps getting mowed over by the goddamn Hispanics who tend to the grounds of the apartment complex I've been living in since the state forced me to tell my house in Naperville and Barbara took the kids to Phoenix to live with Pilot Bob.  Do I have an actual garden?  The answer is a big fat no, because the goddamn woman in the property office won't listen to reason.  She keeps insisting that this is a rental property, not your backyard.  Flower borders, that's all we want, she says.  So the goddamn Hispanics go out and tend the marigolds along the borders.  But do you understand, I'm talking about fat, ripe, juicy, delicious red tomatoes that I want to grow with my own two hands through the bountiful mystery and generosity of nature!  That dream ended when Barb started sleeping with Pilot Bob and we gave up Naperville.  Anyway, would I like a garden?  YES.  Matter of fact I would like a farm.  But at the present moment I'm afraid all I have is apartment 4H at Bell Harbor Manor, which is neither a harbor nor a manor and contains NOT ONE SINGLE BELL.  Which one of you wizards came up with the name 'Bell Harbor Manor'?  May your clever tongues be ripped from their cushy red linings and left to dry on pikes under the native sun of the cannibal land.  Ha!  I will be called into the office for that one but I'm leaving it, because what I'm trying to get at here is that I'M NOT SURE ANY OF US KNOWS just how far we have removed ourselves not only from nature but from the natural conditions of life that have prevailed for centuries and have forced men to the extreme limits of their physical capacity in order simply to feed, clothe and otherwise provide for their families, sending them every night to a sweet, exhausted, restorative, unstirred, deserved sleep such as we will never know again..." (37-38)

That's only about half of the e-mail but I don't want to break the record for the longest excerpt on the blog.

There is no main character in this book, but a few hold center stage more often than others: Lynn Mason, Benny Shassburger, Joe Pope, Carl Garbedian, Marcia Dwyer, Karen Woo, Janine Gorjanc, Old Brizz, Jim Jackers and Chris Yop, Amber Ludwig, Larry Novotnoy, Hank Neary, and Don Blattner, apart from Tom Mota.  The plot is basically the drama of their lives.  Lynn Mason is basically the boss of all the other employees and may or may not have breast cancer.  There is an interlude in between the two "parts" of the novel ("Enter a New Century" and "Returns and Departures") called "The Thing to Do and the Place to Be" which breaks out of the first person plural voice and focuses directly on her, so she feels more significant.  Joshua Ferris, in an interview excerpted in my edition of the novel, also refers to this section as the emotional core of the novel, and the part that takes it beyond a basic farce.

This novel is very, very funny.  The words fly off the page and I was pretty much "into it" from page one.  While it was very engaging, it tended to lose me for just a little while, towards the end of the second book, where something sort of faux-dramatic happens.  That's probably the only reason I won't add it to the "best books" list--and it probably deserves it anyways.  Because I would have rolled my eyes at the faux-dramatic scene if it had just been dramatic instead.  Instead, it's sort of funny and lighthearted.

In terms of the other characters, Benny Shassburger receives a strange bequest from Old Brizz and has a crush on Marcia.  Joe Pope is effectively second-in-command and everybody resents him, except for Genevieve who is basically the most attractive person in the office.  Carl Garbedian starts acting strangely and has issues with his wife Marilynn, who is a very understanding doctor.  He starts taking medication prescribed for Janine Gorjanc, whose young daughter was abducted and strangled, who then got divorced and has a somewhat bizarre grieving ritual uncovered by Karen Woo, who is basically the biggest "gossip" in the office--though really this whole book is basically gossiping.  Jim Jackers is sort of pegged as an idiot and has a great uncle that comes up with brilliant marketing campaigns for him.  Chris Yop has a sort of ridiculous situation develop with the office chair that he has taken from another employee that was laid off.  Larry Novotnoy has an affair with Amber Ludwig and gets her pregnant and keeps hoping she'll get an abortion.  Hank Neary and Don Blattner are both writers, the former of failed novels and the latter of failed screenplays.

In short, the plot of this novel is very episodic, and exists primarily in the stories that the co-workers tell about one another.  It's almost like a collection of short stories.  It reminded me a lot of a children's book I read, Sideways Stories from Wayside School.  That was one of my favorite books ever growing up (as was its sequel, Wayside School is Falling Down), so maybe you can see why I liked this.  Those stories were a little ridiculous, but I could identify with them because I was in school too.  Now the stories in this novel are also a little ridiculous, but I could identify with them because I work in an office too.  In the interview after the book, Ferris does admit that the office of an ad agency is able to "get away" with more ridiculous behavior than would fly at say, a law firm, so maybe that accounts for some of the more unbelievable aspects.

Mainly I liked this book for the idiosyncratic reasons that I usually like books: while sexual confusion and substance abuse are not major (or even minor) themes in this novel, suicidal depression certainly comes up a few times, so I can dig it:

"We fought with depression.  One thing or another in our lives hadn't worked out, and for a long period of time we struggled to overcome it.  We took showers sitting down and couldn't get out of bed on weekends.  Finally we consulted HR about the details of seeing a specialist, and the specialist prescribed medication.  Marcia Dwyer was on Prozac.  Jim Jackers was on Zoloft and something else.  Dozens of others took pills all day long, which we struggled to identify, there were so many of them, in so many different colors and sizes....
Yet for all the depression no one ever quit.  When someone quit, we couldn't believe it.  'I'm becoming a rafting instructor on the Colorado River,' they said.  'I'm touring college towns with my garage band.' We were dumbfounded.  It was like they lived on a different planet.  Where had they found the derring-do?  What would they do about car payments?  We got together for going-away drinks on their final day and tried to hide our envy while reminding ourselves that we still had the freedom and luxury to shop indiscriminately."  (56-57)

A couple other things worth mentioning: this is a great Chicago novel.  There are not many novels about modern day Chicago.  Most are about New York.  There is a sequence in the "interlude" where Lynn Mason's sometime-boyfriend Martin blindfolds her and takes her on a Ferris Bueller-esque series of adventures around the city, quintessential Chicago things.  I found it a little bit cliche, but what can you do?  It was still a sort of sweet scene.  The book takes place in 2000 and 2001 and Potbelly gets referenced once or twice, back before it expanded around the country.  There are spot-on references to outlying suburbs like Palatine and Schaumburg and neighborhoods like Bridgeport and traffic routes like the I-88.  So basically this book might make you feel like your existence is worthy of being the stuff of literature if you live in Chicago rather than New York.

Another thing: this book was timely.  It came out in 2007, in eerie anticipation of the recession to come, what with all of the material about layoffs.  It's not about the same kind of market forces that fueled that decline, but it's a portrait of a more innocent time in our history, when "the game" didn't feel as "rigged."

This is turning out to be kind of a short review.  I thought I'd have all the time in the world to write it because I'm on my first "vacation" in nearly 10 years, but I digress.  If it's not already clear, I really, really liked this book, and I highly recommend it.  I am definitely interested in reading Ferris's follow-up novels and will hopefully get around to reviewing them in the not too distant future.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago - Mike Royko (1971)

I work at the corner of Washington and Clark, across from City Hall.  I've been working there about a year, and the year before that, I worked at the corner of Washington and LaSalle.  Both are (essentially) across the street from City Hall.  And that previous job was for the City of Chicago.  So it should come as little surprise that the history of our fair city holds more than a cursory interest to me.

I also spend my fair share of time at the Richard J. Daley Center, which I have to believe is one of the most horrible places on the face of the earth, an approximation of hell.  But it is what it is and I hope one day that I won't feel like I don't belong there every time I step up in a situation where I have to ask for something besides another continuance.  That or I hope I move onto greener pastures...

For most of my childhood, Richard M. Daley was the mayor of Chicago, and I like to think he did a decent job, except for the parking meter deal.  At this point it may be instructional to list all the mayors of Chicago since Richard J. Daley:

Richard J. Daley: 1955 - 1976
Michael A. Bilandic: 1976 - 1979
Jane Byrne: 1979-1983
Harold Washington: 1983 - 1987
Eugene Sawyer: 1987 - 1989 (I had never heard of him until I looked up this list)
Richard M. Daley: 1989 - 2011
Rahm Emanuel: 2011 - Present

So as you can see, the two Daleys ran this city for a combined 42 years out of the past 61.  Richard M's legacy is still being written, though he is no longer in the spotlight.  It seems fair to say that Rahm will not be re-elected for another term, but I'm sure he's read this book, so maybe he will.  Because Richard J. got through plenty of scandals on sometimes very similar issues and managed to keep winning.  Of course the patronage system has been disavowed, prohibited and excised, but one wonders whether that's really the case or if it's all a surface thing.  Rahm may have to work a miracle or two, but he seems just as ruthless as Richard J.  He also can be quite charming, such as the time he seemed to run up to me personally, standing on the sidelines at the 2015 Pride Parade, and shook my hand excitedly.

Ironically, I just received a second red light camera ticket today.  The first took place on June 25, 2016.  The second took place on June 29, 2016.  In the first, I was following a car that was turning right on a yellow arrow.  The yellow arrow went away, right as I was rounding the corner, and I guess I was technically turning right on a red light where there was a sign that said "no turn on red."  Isn't there usually like, a gap of a second before the opposite light turns red?  Yes, maybe in the suburbs, but not in Chicago!  There was an investigation into the length of yellow lights in the city about a year or two ago and it was found that they lasted about half as long as those in the suburbs.  In the second ticket, I actually stopped at the red light, but it was just past the white line before the crosswalk.  I'm going to contest both of these and will post in the comments the result, when I know.  I am on the hook for $200.  Clearly, the city needs this money more than me!

And that is the problem with Rahm--though I do believe that Richard M. instituted the red light cameras.  Enough about the current state of politics.  The whole point of this book is that Chicago is corrupt.  People have always known it is corrupt, but this book spells it out in extremely sarcastic detail.  It's a great read, hilarious at times and depressing at others.  I'd prefer not to focus on the most egregious violations of good faith and fair dealing, though perhaps the police scandal is worth a mention.  Instead, the story about fire chief Quinn must be relayed, for those that have not already heard it.  Basically, this book makes it seem like Chicago was run by a bunch of lunkheads, like a bush league city, and this story in particular is hilarious:

"Even a pennant won by the Chicago White Sox was grabbed by City Hall as a great civic event--but with disastrous results.  The night the Sox clinched it, Daley's fire chief, Robert Quinn, turned on the city's entire civil defense siren system to celebrate the championship.  However, he had not warned anybody that he was going to do it, so most of the city's 3,700,000 citizens thought the wailing of sirens at 11 P.M. meant they were about to go up in a nuclear cloud.  Thousands of them poured into the streets, called the police and newspapers, prayed, wept, and became hysterical.  Quinn's resignation was justifiably demanded by outraged citizens, but he is Daley's old Hamburg Club pal and was forgiven that and many future acts of inspired stupidity.  He would someday attempt to prove his firemen's fitness by sending them on a ten-mile jog down the center of the Kennedy Expressway at the peak of rush hour, causing one monumental traffic jam." (116)

The police are a major subject in this book, and sometimes, they don't behave like they're supposed to, but it doesn't seem like most people would mind.  I am thinking primarily of the casual bribes they would take for relatively minor traffic violations, to save people a trip to court.  I am sorry that I have never gotten the opportunity to cooperate in such a scheme:

"On the Southwest Side, another policeman stopped a motorist and used a different approach when the motorist didn't gift wrap his license.  He carried wooden pencils in his pocket, and he would announce: 'I have three kinds of pencils which I sell--a five-dollar pencil, a ten-dollar pencil, and a twenty-five-dollar pencil.  I think you need a ten-dollar pencil, don't you?' The pencils were seldom sold for more than twenty-five dollars, because that would have meant somebody had been run over, and fixing that required the cooperation of prosecutors and even judges and was not something that could be arranged on the scene." (109-110)

Other times, they're god-awful, and Richard J. had a scandal on his hands not unlike the one Rahm has had on his hands for more than a year now, both of which resulted in the firing of the superintendent of police.  However, Daley's involved the police engaging in burglary, rather than covering up unnecessary shootings.  He hired Orlando Wilson as the replacement, and perhaps one longs for the kind of change that he was able to make back in the day:

"Wilson took over and the transformation of the Police Department began.  But an even more amazing transformation was already underway.  Daley, who had been content to allow the Police Department to run wild for five years, had become Daley, the zealous reformer of same.  The scandal was off page one, and it was replaced by Daley vowing to whip the council into passing needed reform ordinances; Daley promising Wilson as much money as he needed for higher salaries and modern equipment; Daley going to Springfield to fight for new police legislation; Daley protecting Wilson from the reactionary political forces." (122)

The mention right there of "money" is perhaps the primary reason why that kind of change is unlikely to happen today.  For all the talk of corruption in Boss, there is scant mention of any budgetary issues.  The city's bond ratings were not barely above junk status, like they are now (or are they junk?  who knows, who cares...).

Eventually there are race riots and a contentious showdown with Martin Luther King Jr., which would probably make for a pretty good movie.  But the real climax of the book is its description of the 1968 Democratic Convention, where the police force, after Wilson retires, transforms into a kind of totalitarian mob.  Now I've only heard random things about this moment in history, but to hear Royko describe it, you'd think the world had gone mad.  There are several passages that portray the madness in brutal detail, so I will attempt to find a representative sample:

"One long-haired young man was suddenly yanked from the crowd, dragged into the plaza by several policeman, and flung into the pool.  Then they pulled him from the pool, dragged him across the plaza, and flung him against a wall.  Another man refused to lower his peace sign and was pulled from the crowd and beaten.  Another was knocked down and, while half conscious and thoroughly subdued, was sprayed in the face with Mace.
Some people got across the street and ran into restaurants, hoping to hide over a sandwich and a cup of coffee.  Policemen went in, dragged them out, and beat them.  A long-haired man who had left the rally early to browse in a nearby bookstore came out of the store without knowing what was happening.  He was struck on the head with a club." (176)

The book ends on another scandal that takes place on Daley's 68th birthday, where police raid the Black Panther headquarters and make up a story about a gun battle that was actually pretty one-sided.  Daley wins the election, again, and it ends on kind of an awkward note.  There are also amusing epigraphs to each chapter, with Daley being examined as a hostile witness in some kind of case, but we never learn what the actual case was about.  Maybe this is explained somewhere in the text, but I missed it.

In short, this book is a "classic" for this city, but few others may be interested apart from history students.  I suppose it would be quite interesting for aspiring politicians.  Many things have changed, but in a way they also stay the same.  It is not quite The Prince, but it is similar to it in spirit.  It is a hilarious and depressing book, and a fine, if troubling, portrait of a city that seems like it will always be a little bit troubling.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (2013)

Back on June 11, 2014, I was working a document review project in the Willis Tower.  I sat next to a guy named Frederick who went by Eric.  He liked to read, too, and I mentioned how I had posted this article on my Facebook page.  I said I hadn't read The Goldfinch, but no book had a bigger buzz attached to it at that moment.  The next day he picked it up and started reading it and told me it was good.

It took me another two years to get up the nerve to tackle it, and I can say that, while I didn't get into it immediately, after about 150-200 pages, I got into it, and I thought it was very good.  Having said that, I am curious to revisit the article.

Basically, the article posits Tartt as a stellar storyteller, but a weak wordsmith--at least, in the opinions of Francine Prose and James Wood.  And to a certain extent that is true.  This does have a pretty good story and it is not surprising that it is being made into a movie.  As for the poetry of the words, I desist.  All I want to say, for starters, is that The Goldfinch bears striking similarities to my second novel S/M (as well as DST), but couched in a much more compelling story.  If you don't already know, this is a pretty big book--about 770 pages--but it goes down pretty fast.  I mean, I did not really get into this book at first, but once I did, I finished it in just a few weeks.  One night I must have read 50-70 pages before falling asleep, and that is rare for me.  That may have happened with City on Fire, but I would recommend this over that, whether it makes me a philistine or not.

Quick plot summary: Theodore Decker, 13, has gotten in trouble at school, and his mother has taken a day off work to go with him to a conference.  For some reason the conference doesn't start right at the beginning of the day, or the end, and they decide to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to check out the new Dutch exhibit.  Then, a massive bomb goes off inside the museum, and there is a great deal of confusion, and an injured old man convinces Theo to take the famous painting of The Goldfinch to protect it, or something.  I think I need to consult the text for this:

"'No! They mustn't see it.' He was frantic, gripping my arm now, trying to pull himself up.  'They've stolen the rugs, they'll take it to the customs shed--'" (37)

The man seems half-delusional, but perhaps there is a threat of it being damaged or stolen.  So Theo takes it, and gets out and goes home and waits for his mother to return.  When she doesn't, he starts to worry, and makes a number of phone calls.  The events during these tense hours seem realistic.  Ultimately Theo ends up going to his friend Andy's house and lives with him and his family, the Barbours.  His mother's life was lost in the bombing, and his father had walked out on them a year earlier.

Then, his father comes to New York with his new girlfriend, and they take Theo back with them to Las Vegas, where he meets his best friend, Boris.  I would say that this was the turning point in the novel for me.  Even though the bombing seems like it makes for an exciting opening, I didn't get into this book until Theo's father shows up.  I also think I will stop there with the specifics and try to avoid spoilers.  Let's just say Theo ends up going back to New York to live with Hobie, who was the old man's business partner in an antique shop in the west village.  There was also a younger girl with the old man at the museum, Pippa, and she also visits Hobie from time-to-time.  Pippa is the object of Theo's affection throughout the novel.  Then, the novel skips ahead a few years to when Theo is in his early 20's, and has become Hobie's partner in the business.

Many people die in this novel and sometimes it feels like a plot device, but it is really one of the major themes of the novel.  Antiques are another.  The meaning of art is another.  Drugs are another.  When I say that it reminds me of my second novel, I am talking primarily about the Las Vegas section (Part 2, starting at Chapter 5, which is at page 211) and the friendship between Theo and Boris.  There is even a passage that comes straight out of it:

"And yet (this was the murky part, this was what bothered me) there had also been other, way more confusing and fucked-up nights, grappling around half-dressed, weak light sliding in from the bathroom and everything haloed and unstable without my glasses: hands on each other, rough and fast, kicked-over beers foaming on the carpet--fun and not that big of a deal when it was actually happening, more than worth it for the sharp gasp when my eyes rolled back  and I forgot about everything; but when we woke the next morning stomach-down and groaning on opposite sides of the bed it receded into an incoherence of backlit flickers, choppy and poorly lit like some experimental film, the unfamiliar twist of Boris's features fading from memory already and none of it with any more bearing on our actual lives than a dream.  We never spoke of it; it wasn't quite real; getting ready for school we threw shoes, splashed water at each other, chewed aspirin for our hangovers, laughed and joked around all the way to the bus stop.  I knew people would think the wrong thing if they knew, I didn't want anyone to find out and I knew Boris didn't either, but all the same he seemed so completely untroubled by it that I was fairly sure it was just a laugh, nothing to take seriously or get worked up about.  And yet, more than once, I had wondered if I should step up my nerve and say something: draw some kind of line, make things clear, just to make absolutely sure he didn't have the wrong idea.  But the moment had never come.  Now there was no point in speaking up and being awkward about the whole thing, though I scarcely took comfort in that fact." (300-301)

And then there is also the ending, where Theo languishes in a hotel room in Amsterdam, contemplating that no move is a right move, and that the only thing left to do is leave this world.  There are great moments of suicidal depression, sexual confusion and substance abuse/addiction, so of course I liked this book.  But yes, even though it won the Pulitzer Prize for 2014, I can't quite put it on the Best Books list because a lot of it just seems random and crazy.  Most especially, I found the whole "action sequence" in Amsterdam more confusing and tedious than not.  There is a lot of dialogue in this book, and much of the explanation in this situation comes from Boris, and I didn't fully understand what kind of scheme they were carrying out--but perhaps that thin layer of confusion was intentional on Tartt's part.

So I just read the original James Wood review in the New Yorker, and it's not the worst review in the world.  It does make the book sound like "children's literature for adults," but he also says a few nice things.  We actually agree that the writing in the Las Vegas section of the book is probably the strongest.  He also imagines whether the book would have been much better if the whole trope and theme of the "The Goldfinch" was excised, and focused instead on the emotional development of the main character.  And I think this is why it touched me, because that is essentially what I was trying to do with S/M.  But nothing really happens to that character that he doesn't bring on himself--nothing that traumatic, at least, compared to what Theo goes through.  There are a lot of similarities though, and it made me feel like, if we were writing about similar things, I was at least on the right track with a book as popular as this.  However, if there wasn't the trope of "The Goldfinch," then this book would be noticeably slimmer, and a completely different genre.  It would only be published because Donna Tartt seems like a total badass.  Put it this way: it made me want to read her other two novels.  I can't help but feel a huge soft spot for any book that has passages such as this:

"But depression wasn't the word.  This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time.  The writhing loathesomeness of the biological order.  Old age, sickness, death.  No escape for anyone.  Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil.  And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game.  Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms.  Oh, isn't he cute?  Awww.  Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital.  Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent.  People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were.  But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it.  It was rotten top to bottom.  Putting your time in at the office; dutifully spawning your two point five; smiling politely at your retirement party; then chewing on your bedsheet and choking on your canned peaches at the nursing home.  It was better never to have been born--never to have wanted anything, never to have hoped for anything." (476-477)

Occasionally, The Goldfinch is great.  There is a kind of Catcher in the Rye feel to it, only on a much bigger scale, with a kind of noir edge.  It's a pretty original story, ridiculous and absurd though it may be.  I've never been very interested in antiques, nor did I want to read about antiques, which is maybe why I thought the book started slow.  But eventually, Tartt made it compelling enough to me that I could tolerate it.  Perhaps the writing seems clunky at times, and it could probably be a lot shorter if there was more of an economy of language, but one cannot deny the way it pulses forward, pushing the reader with it.

The general consensus seems to be that the ending is "overwrought."  That is, not the action that closes the story, but what comes after--and the endless philosophizing of Theo about the nature of art.  I think it's a section that's designed to be quoted on mediums like Flying Houses.  So I'll try to pick something out, and maybe it'll be a nice way to end the review.

Is there anything else that needs to be said?  I think most of the controversial debate about this book took place two years ago, but maybe a brief conversation I had with a friend puts it into perspective.  I hadn't spoken or seen this friend in almost five years, but he told me about how he read Moby Dick and was completely blown away by it and how I had to read it--so it will go on "the list."  But I also mentioned this book to him and he said, "What, is that by Donna Tartt?" It's not fair to say that this book could be mentioned in the same breath as Moby Dick, but a person appreciative of that classic tome is at least aware of the author of this one.  I'm sure this is a much easier book to get through than Melville's.  So maybe so-called millenials and other similarly-situated future individuals with warped attention spans will consider The Goldfinch their Moby Dick.  I can't say if this book will last down through the ages or not, but I would venture a guess that the movie (if it manages to come to fruition) will have a huge influence on that result.  It will make for a difficult adaptation, to be sure, but I would humbly volunteer myself to be part of the "crack team of writers" (if Tartt was not interested herself) to do it.  One cannot doubt that it will at least make for a "fun" movie, despite the extremely depressing subject matter.

And here is a representative sample of the last 20 pages:

"And as terrible as this is, I get it.  We can't choose what we want and don't want and that's the hard lonely truth.  Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it's going to kill us.  We can't escape who we are.  (One thing I'll have to say for my dad: at least he tried to want the sensible thing--my mother, the briefcase, me--before he completely went berserk and ran away from it.)
And as much as I'd like to believe there's a truth beyond illusion, I've come to believe that there's no truth beyond illusion.  Because, between 'reality' on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic." (770)

I don't want to analyze this passage too deeply; suffice to say, it speaks to me as a writer.  After this, I trust that Donna Tartt's other two books are worth reading, and I look forward to checking them out one day.