2 great cynical rants from The Goldfinch

“But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding into the playground with no idea what future Hells awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and traveled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten top to bottom. Putting your time in at the office; dutifully spawning your two point-five; smiling politely at your retirement party; then chewing on your bedsheet and choking on your canned peaches at the nursing home.”

“And, increasingly, I find myself fixing on that refusal to pull back. Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence — of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do — is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me — and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly until I did, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool.”

On The Goldfinch, Dickens and haters


You know that uniquely torturous last week of work before you go on vacation, when you’re obsessively checking weather reports and find yourself spacing out to to thoughts of fudge and salt-water taffy? That’s me right now, just four days shy of my annual sojourn to the peaceful post-Labor Day rhythms of Ocean City, New Jersey. My bag is half-packed and I’ve got my reading list sorted (new Tana French, new-ish Marisha Pessl, new-adjacent Karen Joy Fowler); all I need is to survive the next 93 hours. It’s exactly like that James Franco movie, except less time and I’m not trapped and at the end of everything I anticipate still having both arms.

Little has been able to hold my attention since the 10-day New Jersey forecast became relevant, with the exception of The Goldfinch, the much-discussed winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and Donna Tartt’s first novel since The Little Friend in 2002 (and before that, The Secret History in 1992). I’d been delaying starting The Goldfinch for months, both because it’s exceedingly long (around 800 pages) and because people have Opinions about The Goldfinch, and sometimes it’s hard to get objectively invested in a book when one is aware, however vaguely, of the existence of Opinions. But surely, I thought as I searched for the door-stopper of a galley copy I’d plopped onto my bookshelf six months ago (ultimately traded for the e-book within 10 pages), surely a Pulitzer Prize winner can’t be bad. Surely I couldn’t hate it. And so with some trepidation, and a quiet symphony of Atlantic Ocean waves playing at the edge of my subconscious, I dove in.

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