Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why, Donna, WHY?

I'm not going to post the cover of The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It's CREEPY. So creepy that after I bought the book at a library book sale, I couldn't bring myself to read it for months because of the cover: all black, with a cutout of a baby doll's eyes. And there isn't even really a doll mentioned in the book! When I finally did read it, I kept it face down at all times when I wasn't reading it.

The Little Friend is a Southern gothic novel that takes place over a summer. (In that respect, I was thrilled to read it; I love reading books set in the same season.) I have to admire how completely Tartt switched from the New England/ivy league college setting of her first book, The Secret History, to the completely rural, class-conscious atmosphere of a small town in Mississippi. And her narrators switched gender, age and worldviews.

So the basic plot is this: 9-year-old Robin was found hung in his backyard; no one knows who did it. Twelve years later, Robin's sister Harriet decides she's going to find his murderer. And then she becomes involved with a certain trashy family and snakes and wow, Harriet's life is crazy and odd and gothic.

Tartt is a detailed writer and this book is certainly character-driven. (In my opinion, too character-driven. You get to know SOOO many people far too well.) Harriet is a fascinating character that's not entirely sympathetic. But that's okay, because otherwise she wouldn't have accomplished what she did. As for plot, well, random things happen. Like poisonous snakes nearly killing people. Looking back on it all, my main problem is that I didn't end the book feeling resolved on anything.

Here's my main issue and it's a bit of a spoiler: THE ENDING IS AWFUL. There's no resolution. None. Every single plot line is left open: Harriet's parents, what will happen to Danny and Harriet, the murder.....GAHHHH. Donna, you strung me along for 600+ pages; I WANT ANSWERS. I know, I know; life isn't pretty and full of answers but fiction isn't real life.

I just want to talk to someone else who read this book. Help me move on and resolve my issues...

Rating: 6/10 (more like a 8.5 for writing but a 5 for plot because I'm still so bitter)


Anna said...

Oh Rachel, I read this book and feel so much the same way. I'm sorry, but you CANNOT have a nine-year-old boy HUNG in his BACKYARD and then spend 600 pages investigating that MURDER of a CHILD by HANGING in his BACKYARD and not give some kind of conclusion. It is not like he got hit by a car and the question is, "Who accidentally killed this boy and then ran away?" Robin's death was a deliberate, almost ridiculously and certainly unnecessarily gruesome killing--it would take a lot of effort to hang someone, and it's not like it was believable as a suicide or something.

It's not even like you can reasonably assume one of the suspects did it; the evidence Harriet digs up is pretty circumstantial at best. I know the book isn't really about solving a murder, but Harriet growing up and learning and processing her grief, but still. 600 pages merits answers.

I read this before reading The Secret History. I much preferred TSH to TLF, for exactly this reason. The prose and storytelling was beautiful, though.

rachel said...

Anna, I'm so glad you read this too and can share my frustration!

You nailed it: the book is really about Harriet losing her childhood innocence (and dang does that girl wreak some havoc--nearly killing two people and basically precipitating the third)--but still--600 pages all about a murder and NOTHING gets resolved, except the sister might not sleep as much as before. Gaah.

I hear Tartt has a third book coming out in 2010, which of course I'm going to read, but I'm hoping it ends more like "The Secret History" as opposed to "The Little Friend."