With the announcement this week of Donna Tartt capturing the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, another star is added to Mississippi’s literary crown. She won for the epic The Goldfinch, a 758-page novel that has been among the most popular and celebrated novels of 2013. This book, Tartt’s third, has also been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle prize and an Andrew Carnegie Medal.
Tartt was born in 1963 in Greenwood and reared in Grenada. Her literary career began at age 13 when she published a poem in the Mississippi Literary Review. She began her college career at Ole Miss where she was mentored by Willie Morris and Barry Hannah. They suggested she transfer to Bennington College to be part of that school’s creative writing program. She graduated from Bennington in 1986. Tartt published her first novel, The Secret History, in 1992. That was followed in 2002 with The Little Friend. In 2003 she received the W.H. Smith Literary Award.
The Goldfinch is described as a sweeping, Dickensian tale about a young orphan in modern Manhattan. Thirteen-year-old Theodore “Theo” Decker, survives a terrorist bombing attack in an art museum takes his mother’s life and dozens of other art-loving citizens. His father wasn’t there, having deserted the family some time prior to these events. Theo adored his energetic, beautiful mother and thinks of his father as an alcoholic, occasionally abusive, and as a thief.
Theo accepts a ring and an enigmatic message given to him by elderly Welton “Welty” Blackwell who dies in the rubble of the explosion. Theo is willing to unravel the puzzle, because before the bomb went off he had found himself fascinated by a red-headed girl, Pippa, also at the Museum that day and who was somehow related to the old man. On her account, Theo will grant the dying man’s last request. Believing that the old man is pointing at a painting (The Goldfinch) on the wall, Theo takes that also in his panicked escape. The taking of these items – one handed over freely, a family heirloom, the other a priceless painting – was done by Theo in a state of terror and shock, with no ability to reason how these minor-seeming actions would influence the rest of his life.
Kelly Pickerill of Lemuria Books says that although Tartt did not have a book signing at the Jackson store, the book has been a big seller. “A lot of people have been talking about it,” she said, “and we are not surprised it won. We are definitely proud of her and happy for her.”
Pickerill read The Goldfinch and found it very good. “I read her first book, The Secret History, which has a dark feel; this one has the same feel,” she said. “It follows a guy from adolescence through adulthood as he is swept along by events.”