Title: ”The Little Friend”
Author: Donna Tartt
Publication Date: 2002, by Borzoi (an imprint of Alfred A. Knopf, a Random House company)
ISBN: 0-679-43938-2 (hardcover), 1-400-03169-9 (trade paperback)
“It was the last picture they had of him. Out of focus. Flat expanse of green cut at a slight angle, with a white rail and the heaving gloss of a gardenia bush sharp in the foreground at the edge of the porch. Murky, storm-damp sky, shifting liquescence of indigo and slate, boiling clouds rayed with spokes of light. In the corner of the frame a blurred shadow of Robin, his back to the viewer, ran out across the hazy lawn to meet his death, which stood waiting for him - almost visible - in the dark place beneath the tupelo tree.” (page 7)
There are advantages to being snowed in - apart from the sheer joy of looking out the window at the blizzard raging overhead, secure in the knowledge that there isn’t one good reason to trudge out into the world and the massive quantities of food, family and mint tea brought to bear by a rampaging storm, is the ability to curl up under a blanket or four with a strong light and a cat at your feet, reading like there’s nothing else in the world that you had to be doing. It’s a day off from reality, particularly when one lives in an apartment building and can safely leave the digging out to those who are paid for the privilege. (My apologies to those who didn’t have a noreaster weekend to hide behind. You have my sympathies.)
There’s also something about a ravaging storm that makes one want to read something warm, something southern - long summer days spent by the swimmin’ hole, tar melting on the sidewalks, that sort of thing. Throw in a 12-year-old murder and some of the most poetic prose to have hit mainstream in years, and you’ve got a recipe for awesomeness.
Donna Tartt, the woman behind “A Secret History,” a novel of such atmosphere and breadth that it took over five hundred densely worded pages just to scratch the surface of a bizarre ritual carried out in a sleepy New England college town (I mean, what could be easier, right?) set her sights on a completely different fish this time around...sorta. That is, it’s a different fish in the same pond, or maybe the other way around.
“The Little Friend” is ostensibly the story of the sudden and bizarre death of a little boy, his idiosyncratic family and his twelve-year-old sister’s attempt to figure out what, exactly, happened to him over a decade after his death. In reality, all that plot and complicatedness serves to paint a vivid portrait of a southern summer shown through the eyes of a ferociously independent little girl struggling against...well, everything - her sister, her friends, her family, the memory of a father vaguely present but still absent three hundred and sixty three days of the year and the preconceptions of a community.
It’s also a story about the passage of time and its effect on memory - our subject, an inherently logical girl, watches in utter confusion as her family rewrites its history as humor and fable spread through the town and winds its way back to drastically affect their lives.
This is not a novel for the impatient or busy - ten pages longer than its predecessor, Tartt takes her sweet time describing her dodging and weaving story line, filling out the chunks of story with scene and character descriptions straight out of Proust just, you know, not
utterly boring quite so introspective.
This is a wonderful novel to get lost in, and if you can deal with the plot meandering and doubling back on itself you’ll find it utterly fascinating. Just don't think of it as a murder mystery - do, and you'll be sorely disappointed.