Your basic Dwarf+Giant Overview is a comprehensive survey of an author or series. It is not an in-depth analysis, nor is it a summary. Think of it as a buying or reading guide, telling you what’s out there, what’s essential, what to avoid and so forth.
“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”
― Donna Tartt, The Secret History
I’ve been working in libraries and bookstores since I was fourteen years old, so suffice it to say I’ve seen a lot of books and a lot of author photographs. When I first saw a picture of Donna Tartt it was an image of her from 1992 shot in an old cemetery blanketed in snow where she’s posed with her arms folded and her gaze defiant. I was pretty intrigued by her appearance, she looked to me like a mix of Audrey Horne, Oscar Wilde and a silent film starlet, personifying a literary and androgynous glamour that I greatly admired could never quite achieve myself. When I read her first novel The Secret History it was maybe 1999 and I was about the same age at the college students that make up the narrative of the story. I was blown away. The Secret History felt like one of those 19th century novels that I had devoured as a young girl, and her characters also embodied that same glamour that Donna possessed and that I coveted. I’ve grown a lot since then and have thankfully found my own modes of expression, yet a part of me still remains haunted and envious of Donna’s enigmatic style.
Donna Tartt is a deliberate writer who releases a novel about every ten years. She has three novels and only four short stories, which were published in magazines and anthologies – a prime example of quality over quantity.
1. The Secret History (1992) – Donna Tartt’s first novel is also my favorite and one that soon after its publication became a modern classic. The Secret History is often described as an “inverted detective story”. The murder that is committed in the beginning of the narrative is described in detail, and the killer’s identities are revealed, as opposed to a “whodunit”-style mystery in which the murder and the killer’s motives aren’t revealed until the climax of the plot. The characters in The Secret History aren’t exactly likable (some being more repellent than others). They’re snobs, sociopaths and incestuous alcoholics, characters that could have been stripped from a more sinister Brideshead Revisited or even The Catcher in the Rye meets Crime and Punishment. The Secret History continues to be one of my go-to recommendations and is also featured as one of my selections on The Last Bookstore’s staff picks table.
2. The Little Friend (2002) – Set in Mississippi in the 1970’s, The Little Friend reads like a young adult Southern Gothic murder mystery, an amalgamation of Harriet the Spy and To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel starts off rather slowly with a tragic death of a young boy and then draws you in deeper and deeper down, upwards, sideways and all around. I really loved reading this novel and Tartt’s voice and character development are spot on and at times I could feel her words squeezing my heart. An essential novel for sure and recommended for anyone looking for something dark and beautiful to read.
3. The Goldfinch (2013) – I went back and forth with The Goldfinch. I loved it, I hated it, I loved it again, I got kind of bored towards the middle, but kept trudging forward as my intuition told me the payoff would be satisfying. I was right. The Goldfinch brought me back full circle by the ending to loving it again. At times The Goldfinch did feel exhausting. This dense 771 page novel really makes you work for it, but if you stick with it, it’s definitely rewarding. The plot is compelling, but bleak in an atmospheric, Dickensian way. The characters are complex and emotionally honest but make terrible decisions and suffering permeates the novel. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the story and I must not be the only one because The Goldfinch was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, and Amazon selected the novel as the 2013 Best Book of the Year. Highly recommended but definitely not for lazy readers or someone looking for a light and easy beach read.
All four of Donna Tartt’s published short stories center around the lives of children confronted with the violent world of adults and of adults who are haunted by memories of childhood. It became apparent to me after reading her short stories that Tartt was highly influenced by both Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote, which I think is terrific as I adore both of those writers.
1. “Tam-O’-Shanter”. The New Yorker April 19, 1993.
2. “A Christmas Pageant”. Harper’s December 1993.
3. “A Garter Snake”. GQ, May 1995.
4.“The Ambush”. The Guardian, June 25, 2005.
I’d never read any of these stories before beginning this overview, but they were pretty easy to find online and here’s where I found them…