Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Little Friend

One of my dirty little pleasures that I don't tell people about (until now!) is reading a book and before I finish the book, logging onto Amazon and reading reviews from other readers. I did this recently with THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt. I was moving through the novel amiably enough and liking it better than I remember liking her first novel THE SECRET HISTORY.

When I got to the review section, it was like I was at a wailing wall! Readers were castigating Tartt left and right for her "non-ending". Reader after reader whined that she didn't answer the main question in the novel, which was about the main character's brother. (I don't want to be too explicit because if anyone actually reads this blog and might want to read THE LITTLE FRIEND, I might spoil the ending.) Also, one reader contended that he or she didn't know who THE LITTLE FRIEND was and accused Tartt of leaving out the title character completely. There was another reader who timidly suggested that the reason Tartt left everything up in the air was because there might be a sequel! There were a few people who wrote that they enjoyed the novel, but mostly it was a torrent of abuse and complaints about time and money wasted.

I finally came to the end of the novel. As to the amazon reviewers: What a bunch of big babies! What is this childish need to have every single loose thread cut and tied neatly? Some of the reviewers obviously have some education because their complaints are well-worded, but obviously, their reading sophistication is waaaay down there in third grade.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh to the reviewers. Since we are living in uneasy and uncertain times, perhaps they can't help demanding that their reading material be neat and tidy. Personally, I hate too much predictability and neatness. I don't need every dot connected; that's the main reason I stay away from genre fiction like mysteries. On the face of it, THE LITTLE FRIEND seems to resemble a mystery, but that's not what Tartt set out to accomplish.

Although I hesitate to use the term because it seems too easy with the novel being set in Mississippi, THE LITTLE FRIEND seems quite Faulkerian. The ending is work, but pleasurable labor for a serious reader because there are many layers and realizations and ironies to sift through and ponder. These reviewers were left to do their own detective work, but of a different sort, and perhaps it was just too much heavy lifting.

I admire Tartt for not pandering to her readers. She assumes that we might be able to draw our own conclusions, and if they differ from another's conclusions, then oh well -- that's literature, folks.

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