Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

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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