Letters

Letters 09-29-2014

Benishek Doesn’t Understand

Congressman Benishek claims to understand the needs of families, yet he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause about 10 million people to lose their health insurance. He must think as long as families can hold fundraisers they don’t need insurance...

(Un)Truth In Advertising

Constant political candidate ads on TV are getting to be too much to bear 45 days before the election...

Rare Tuttle Rebuttal

Finally, I disagree with Stephen Tuttle. His “Cherry Bomb” column in the 8/4/14 issue totally dismayed me. I always love his wit and the slamming of the 1 percent. His use of fact and hyperbole highlights the truth; until “Cherry Bomb.” Oh man, Stephen...

Say No To Fluoride

Do you or your child’s teeth have white, yellow, orange, brown, stains, spots, streaks, cloudy splotches or pitting? If so, you may be among millions of Americans who now have a condition called dental fluorosis...

Questions Of Freedom

The administration’s “Affordable Health Care Act” has ordered religious orders to provide contraception and chemical abortions against the church’s God given beliefs and teachings … an interesting order, considering the First Amendment’s clear prohibitions...

Stop The Insults & Talk

I found it interesting that Ms. Minervini used the Northern Express to push the Safe Harbor agenda for a 90-bed homeless shelter in Traverse City with a tactic that is also being utilized by members of the city commission. Those of us who oppose the project are being labeled as uncompassionate citizens...

Roads and Republicans

Each time you hit a road crater while driving, thank the “nerd” and the Tea Party controlled Republican legislature.

Home · Articles · News · Books · Donna Tartt‘s Little Friend...
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Donna Tartt‘s Little Friend is Worth the Wait

Nancy Sundstrom - October 31st, 2002
On the page and in real life, if there is one thing Donna Tartt has mastered, it’s the fine art of suspense.
After all, Tartt has held an eager audience of readers at bay for slightly more than a decade since publishing her remarkable, bestselling debut novel, “The Secret History.“ The literary world has been clamoring for her sophomore effort ever since, but Tartt opted to crank out thoughtful and provocative columns, critiques, and essays, while quietly working on “The Little Friend.“
At long last, it is here, and absolutely worth the wait. Part of the deliciousness of the anticipation of this new book was in the speculation of whether or not Tartt was really as fine a storyteller and insightful a moralist as she appeared to be with “The Secret History.“ The answer is a resounding yes, and then some.
Much like her other book, “The Little Friend“ deals with the themes of crime and punishment, prejudice and class distinction, ambition and longing, vulnerability and innocence lost, revenge, and the sometimes fragile nature of redemption. The action is set in the early 1970s in a small Mississippi town, a Faulkneresque landscape whose geographic wounds Tartt seems to know intimately. The central character is 12-year-old Harriet Cleve Dusfresnes, who is growing up in the shadow of her dead brother Robin, who, when she was just a baby, was found murdered and hanging from a tree in their yard.
The crime was never solved, and has torn apart Harriet’s family, especially her mother, who has taken to her bed with migraines in retreat from the world, and her father, who has abandoned his reclusive wife, Harriet and her sister Allison. Tartt slowly brings up the lights on her darkened stage as she prepares to unfold the drama by describing the devastation Robin’s death has caused, even more than a decade after it happened:

“For the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son’s death because she had decided to have the Mother’s Day dinner at six in the evening instead of noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it. Dissatisfaction had been expressed by the elder Cleves at the new arrangement; and while this mainly had to do with suspicion of innovation, on principle, Charlotte felt that she should have paid attention to the undercurrent of grumbling, that it had been a slight but ominous warning of what was to come; a warning which, though obscure even in hindsight, was perhaps as good as any we can ever hope to receive in this life. Though the Cleves loved to recount among themselves even the minor events of their family history––repeating word for word, with stylized narrative and rhetorical interruptions, entire death-bed scenes, or marriage proposals that had occurred a hundred years before –– the events of this terrible Mother’s Day were never discussed. They were not discussed even in covert groups of two, brought together by a long car trip or by insomnia in a late-night kitchen; and this was unusual, because these family discussions were how the Cleves made sense of the world. Even the cruelest and most random disasters––the death, by fire, of one of Charlotte’s infant cousins; the hunting accident in which Charlotte’s uncle had died while she was still in grammar school––were constantly rehearsed among them, her grandmother’s gentle voice and her mother’s stern one merging harmoniously with her grandfather’s baritone and the babble of her aunts, and certain ornamental bits, improvised by daring soloists, eagerly seized upon and elaborated by the chorus, until finally, by group effort, they arrived together at a single song; a song which was then memorized, and sung by the entire company again and again, which slowly eroded memory and came to take the place of truth... But Robin: their dear little Robs. More than ten years later, his death remained an agony; there was no glossing any detail; its horror was not subject to repair or permutation by any of the narrative devices that the Cleves knew. And––since this willful amnesia had kept Robin’s death from being translated into that sweet old family vernacular which smoothed even the bitterest mysteries into comfortable, comprehensible form––the memory of that day’s events had a chaotic, fragmented quality, bright mirror-shards of nightmare which flared at the smell of wisteria, the creaking of a clothes-line, a certain stormy cast of spring light.“

Tartt’s Harriet is a fascinating young creature - willful, precocious, intelligent, and given to wild flights of fantasy, much of it the result of raising herself with little adult attention, save that of Ida, the family maid, and several relatives on her mother’s side. She believes that if Robin had lived, her life would be radically different, and becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of the murder, along with the help pf her friend Hely.
Based more on conjecture than evidence, Harriet goes so far as to identify Robin’s killer as her whitetrash, drug addicted neighbor, Danny Ratliff, who hails from a long line of degenerates and delinquents. At first, there’s a comedic element to Harriet’s stalking of Danny, but as it becomes more relentless, the tables turn, placing her in the path of danger, if not true evil. What at first seems like child’s play becomes increasingly more serious, then menacing, as Harriet replaces cleverness with calculated cunning. Tartt knows just when to fan the flames to elevate the suspense. And in the end, after a tense climax that builds with deliberate pacing, all is not neatly tied up and resolved, but messy, like real life itself.
Tartt’s intelligence, morally challenging ideas, and compelling, often elegant turns of phrase fairly leap from each page, and her characters are more finely detailed than they were in her first outing. “The Little Friend“ is proof positive that Tartt’s gifts as a writer are many, and even if another 10 years pass before her next novel, readers can expect then - as now - to be rewarded for their patience.
 
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