Oh Donna! The Goldfinch

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   When I was very young, my mother had a collection of 45s and an old phonograph.   When my sisters and I grew bored with tormenting each other or the guinea pig that tried to hide under the playhouse to get away from us, we would haul out the little record box and turntable and fight over which song to listen to.  One of my favorites was a fabulous song by Ritchie Valens called “Donna.”

I had a girl, Donna was her name.

Since she left me, I’ve never been the same.

But I love that girl.  Donna, where can she be?

(You’re probably singing the refrain to yourself right now:  where can she be?)  Even the boys on the baseball teams that played Babe Ruth at Tates Creek High School’s field would sing “Oh, Donna,” serenading the girl who kept their stats — Donna L.  I don’t know if it changed any of their batting averages for the better, but Donna would blush and seemed to enjoy the song.  Need to hear the whole song for that ear worm to take full effect?  Here you go:

But however much statistician Donna enjoyed the baseball players’ serenades, it was probably not as much as I enjoyed Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.  Oh Donna indeed.  It is a masterpiece of Dickensian proportions.  In fact, it may very well be Dickensian in plot, character, mood, even setting . . . but I loved it.  Loved it loved it loved it.  With the passion of a thousand white hot suns.  From the moment Theo Decker begins the retrospective tale of his life and how he ended up in Amsterdam at Christmas; cold, alone, bored and ill, I was hooked.  It’s one of those can’t-put-it-down, don’t-want-to-sleep-til-I-finish-reading books.  But at 771 pages, you must, unless you speed-read and miss the gorgeous prose, or can stay up for days on end without sleep (as Theo occasionally manages to do with the help of some not-quite-legal techniques).

The goldfinch of the title is a Carel Fabritius painting and is the last experience Theo shares with the mother he adores.

“It was a small picture, the smallest in the exhibition, and the simplest:  a yellow finch, against a plain, pale background, chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle. . . . Something about the neat, compact way it tucked down inside itself — its brightness, its alert watchful expression — made me think of my mother when she was small:  a dark-capped finch with steady eyes.”

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  I am not a Dickens scholar, but I’ve read enough to recognize Donna Tartt’s use of Dickens’ types.  Theo as Oliver Twist; Boris the Artful Dodger; Larry Decker, Theo’s Fagin-like father; Pippa with whom Theo falls madly in love at the age of 13, even her name a nod to Pip’s love Estella in Great Expectations; and Hobie, the genteel, gentle and good likeness of Fezziwig and the like.

The novel ranges from New York’s Park Avenue, to a desolate desert community on the outskirts of Las Vegas, to Amsterdam.  It was recognized on most best of 2013 lists and my commendation is merely added to those.

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Hobie is quite a cook and revels in making tea with jam and toast on occasion.  Theo himself says:  “dinner was the time of day I looked forward to most.  . . . I’d never gotten used to the sadness of having to scrabble around to feed myself at night, sitting on the side of my bed with a bag of potato chips or maybe a dried-up container of rice left over from my dad’s carry out.  By happy contrast, Hobie’s whole day revolved around dinner.  Where shall we eat?  Who’s coming over?  What shall I cook?  Do you like pot-au-feu?  No?  Never had it?  Lemon rice or saffron?  Fig preserves or apricot?”

I’m afraid the time constraints of making a perfect, French pot-au-feu (not to mention the intimidation factor) are a bit beyond my capacity for a book club meeting.  But if you are in the mood, here’s a lovely Springtime Pot-Au-Feu recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini blog:  http://chocolateandzucchini.com/recipes/meat-charcuterie/springtime-pot-au-feu-beef-stew-recipe/

For my book club, I would go with the hand-to-mouth existence of Theo and Boris in Las Vegas but ramp it up a notch.

Potato Chips and Dip — I mix yogurt and cottage cheese with powdered ranch dip

Individual Pizzas — buy the pre-made pizza crusts and then put out an assortment of toppings:  artichoke hearts, goat cheese, turkey pepperoni, arugula, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, diced chicken, roasted red peppers, onions.

The boys drank constantly so anything you want to serve would probably be found in the book.  But I found a recipe for a cocktail called a Goldfinch and I would definitely serve those first.  Here’s the recipe (YUMMY!)

What you need
Image1 1/2 Measures Golden Rum (British/Caribbean Rum)
2 Measures Fresh Pineapple Juice
1/2 Measure Galliano Liqueur
1 Dash Fresh Lime Juice
Champagne
Ice

Mixing
Add all of the ingredients except the champagne to a shaker and shake vigorously for approximately 10-12 seconds. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and add the Champagne. Garnish with pineapple spears and a small pineapple wedge, stir and serve.

This cocktail works equally well with fresh orange juice and/or Prosecco instead of Champagne.

MUSIC

Definitely the Rat Pack.  Vegas baby.  There’s an album recorded in 1963 called Live at the Sands that features Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. and some of their favorite, classic songs.

MOVIE CASTING

This is tough because the movie sweeps through years and Theo, Boris and Pippa grow from 13 year olds to 30 year olds.  As for Larry Decker my pick would be Ryan Gosling, for the washed up actor/gambling failure.  Hobie, wouldn’t it be fun to see Russell Crowe play this, totally against type?  Xandra, Larry’s Vegas girlfriend, Christina Hendrickson with a blonde wig would be perfection.

Enjoy!

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