The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The summer of 2013, I was also staying with my father.  That is the summer that India swooped into my hands and I read her.  Grieving for my mother, I went deep into a couple of epic narratives, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  I immersed myself, much as I am this summer, in a lot of Al Purdy poetry and George Bowering poetry, as a way of dealing with loss and feelings that not only bubbled onto the surface, but became like open boils on my heart.  To go back further, to the summer of 2011,  I became captivated by Belleville and picked up everything I could that was written by Gerry Boyce, local historian (who happens to now live in my father’s building), and began stalking Susanna Moodie; visiting her house on Bridge Street west, visiting her resting place, even locating original marble at Campbell’s monuments and of course, read her writing and what others wrote about her and her sister, Catherine Parr Trail.  Summers with my father have proved to be interesting literary events, every time.

This summer, I brought along The Goldfinch by Donna Tarttt, a novel that every one was talking about, but one that I had not taken the time to read.  In retrospect, I regret that I did not previously read The Secret History.  In most reviews I find that there are comparisons being drawn between the two books and typically, The Secret History surpasses the other for its construction, originality and popularity.  It’s now on my ‘to do’ list.

So…my thoughts on a book that is likened, in part, to Rowling’s Harry Potter, Dickens and Breaking Bad?  I guess I can only review this one through my own eyes and that’s why literary reviews can be very interesting…they are so personal.  Dr. Joan Macleod’s words come to mind. “You notice what you know.”  Anything you do, see or understand is coming from a prior knowledge and experience, without any intention to do so.  While I may perceive some Goodreads reviews to be desperately arrogant where this novel is concerned, I can’t fault those authors because they may have been looking for something very different where a ‘good book’ is concerned.

I have no choice but to break this one down…

First and foremost, for me, is that ‘THE GOLDFINCH’ (the 1654 painting done by  Carel Pietersz. Fabritius ) was the element (yes, it became a character for me) that I would not lose sight of throughout the novel.  I fell in love with the painting at the first moment that Theo saw it through his mother’s eyes.  Once described by the author, I was captivated.  I would be concerned from that point forward until the end, about what was to happen to the painting, but also, what the painting had to say to me, the reader.

Now, not every one would be captivated by the painting and its symbolism.  I would propose that readers who have adored a piece of art in a dusty art textbook or on an art card or reproduction for years and then see it for the first time ‘in the flesh’, know what I’m talking about, here.  Edgar Degas’s sculpture, The Little Dancer, is that for me.  I saw the sculpture in so many forms, but until I saw it in three dimensions in the center of a room at the National Art Gallery, the first exhibit to be showcased in the new building the summer of 1988, I did not realize just how much a person can be left breathless by art.

I remembered weeping when I saw her. (but enough of that)

The point being that, while others are annoyed by the last fifteen pages of the novel, I was engrossed in them.  An examination of the subject of the painting and its treatment was crucial to me.  While many readers found the high keyed description annoying, excessive and boring, I lavished in it, likely because I’m that sort of writer. (this makes me laugh)  To be honest, though, there were sections in Las Vegas where I tuned out…also, places where I found myself skimming.  Did that happen for you?

Some critics describe the portion of the book set in Las Vegas to be the strongest portion, but this was the section I had the most difficulty with.  Not to draw comparisons, but it was the drug culture and experience in Shantaram that I found the least interesting.  I find that ‘druggies’ quickly become treated as stereotypical mono-faceted characters.  There isn’t anything that surprises me in the writing of their habits, their related bad choices or the consequences of those.  I really didn’t care ‘how many’ pills Boris or Theo were taking…or how much vodka they were drinking.  So, can you tell?  This section rubbed me the wrong way.  (Note that I’m trying not to ruin the story for others here, by being rather vague.)  I guess we needed Vegas because we needed to know Theo’s father.  Boris just rubbed me the wrong way…throughout.  I wasn’t all that taken by his character, the way he was written or the seamless way that he managed to undo his past mistake.  Oh my!  That was all too easy and a disappointment.  (no spoiler alert required…see!)  READ THE BOOK.

What I loved…apart from the Goldfinch…the painting…the symbolism there…Welty’s love for the painting, Theo’s mother…

I relished everything and anything to do with the old house, the writing of Hobie and his life in the downstairs wood shop.  Pour on the detail!  Would this engage every reader? No.  But, moi???  YES!  Antiques, wood, bric-a-brac, trades, recuperation, recreation and the interesting characters who came and went in Hobie’s life.  This was the ‘stuff’ of life and I think that Theo had stability in this setting.  It was a relief whenever and however he landed there.  Pippa was a beautiful maiden…a disappointment that the relationship didn’t feel resolved, but interesting none-the-less.

Andy and the Barbour family…another layer of story, a setting, somehow separate from the number of others.  The Barbour family becomes a microcosm, each character struggling in a unique way.  One can get wrapped up in their world, as well.  Written as a separate, but somehow connected, passage to the larger narrative, the ‘endings’ for each of these characters become concerning and the reader is left asking, “How does any of this impact Theo, after all?”

My readers, here, may have already wondered about the multiple settings and the long litany of characters…well, I suppose that this is where Tartt receives most of her criticism.  In the end, however, I view the book, in culmination, as a fanciful narrative about everything that is ‘us’…the traumas, the celebration, the consequences and the histories within one life.

I am staying in an apartment building that overlooks a very Victorian landscape, well manicured lawns and beautifully constructed, if not ornamental, homes.  I’ve met so many individuals who live here and each one comes with their own complex story.  This book is like that, oodles of tales within a single character’s life time.  They enter and they depart and at the end of it, we are left with the tale of a single image, an object of affection and the fact that it was something that remained, however ephemeral.

A Goldfinch bound by a small tether…for a lifetime…to its own life.

I recommend the book and will be looking for The Secret History.

I liked this review/analysis.  You might also.

 

goldfinch-donna-tarttMy Shantaram Review

 

 

 

 

A Splinter In the Heart

An adaptation of the coming-of-age story written by Al Purdy, A Splinter in the Heart was performed, yesterday afternoon,  by the Festival Players at Rosehall Run in the county.  The screenplay adaptation was written by David Carley.

What a beautiful Reader’s Theater to watch…under the blue sky…under the white tent…on the edge of a vineyard.  It was absolutely magical.

Directly from Carley’s site, I’ve included some lines from the play.  From these lines on, both Carolyn and I wept quietly in our seats…right until the very end.  And how appropriate that I should have mapped in an ancient tree on a large panel before Dad and I headed out to the venue early in the afternoon.  I just completed the painting late this afternoon.

‘Portugee would ask, “You ever stand in a pine grove, Patrick? It’s like you feel yourelf changing into a tree. There’s a brown forest floor under your feet from the needles, and there’s wind, higher up, a sound of the sky. Yep, for just an instant, you feel like a tree. And the trees themselves, they was made into ships, sailing ships for all the seas. And I always wonder, “Did them trees ever feel what it was like to be a ship?”

You ever feel like a tree, he’d ask? And every time he asked it, I knew it was the ONLY thing that was worth feeling.’

I didn’t know that Bob and Carolyn were attending and I was so excited to see them! Over the years,  I have worked with drama students on various reader’s theater performances, including my favourite, Love You Forever, by Robert Munch.  I always wrote my own scripts for these performances.  I’ve also seen some professional productions by One Yellow Rabbit and really enjoyed those, also.  But, I have to say, yesterday afternoon’s performance definitely tugged at my heart strings.

The sound devices and staging of the production were fantastic, along with the exquisite performances of the actors.  I will always remember this production.  Very powerful, in its execution and in its content.

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On the evening of Gord Downie’s final performance with the Tragically Hip, just up the 401 in Kingston…this.

The Belleville Club: An Open Mic Session

My ‘Connectors’ (read Malcolm Gladwell’s work) here in Belleville are Lisa Morris and Peter Paylor.  The other night they brought me into a circle of live music and friendship at ‘the ol’ boy’s club’ in Belleville.  How cool is that?  I met some very friendly and lovely creatives during this live mic session, a night demonstrating the variety of music and energy that weaves through this beautiful city, edging on the Bay of Quinte.  The photographs pretty much say it all…just want to make sure that I document things as they unfold during my stay.

I’m trying to balance socializing a bit…engaging the landscape…and painting, while visiting Dad.  It’s a different sort of trip this time around because I brought a good part of my studio with me.  I’ll eventually get around to writing about that experience as well, but shortly, I’ve got to head back to the easel, so here is a representation of the images I collected during the music and the fun.  Thanks to Larraine Milligan, an awesome figurative artist, for showing me the upstairs rooms in the club.

IMG_0584 IMG_0585 IMG_0586 IMG_0587 IMG_0588 IMG_0589 IMG_0592 IMG_0596 IMG_0599 IMG_0601 IMG_0602 IMG_0605 IMG_0608 IMG_0611 IMG_0614 IMG_0618 IMG_0619 IMG_0620 IMG_0622 IMG_0623 IMG_0624 IMG_0625 IMG_0626 IMG_0627 IMG_0628 IMG_0629 IMG_0632 IMG_0636 IMG_0641 IMG_0644 IMG_0647 IMG_0650 IMG_0654 IMG_0656 IMG_0658 Lisa, finished rehearsal with her theater production for the night, brings a little Steampunk into the mix…love this lady!IMG_0662 IMG_0668 IMG_0669 IMG_0674 IMG_0675 IMG_0678 IMG_0679 Talking Micro Breweries with Bill.  Looking for something special to bring home to Patrick. IMG_0681 IMG_0683 IMG_0686 I didn’t get a photo of Peter…more to come!

A Turtle Pond

Just down the hill from my father’s home, edging on the Waterfront Trail, a section of the Trans Canada Trail, is a wee piece of magic, a turtle pond.  I spent some time exploring the edge of the pond as I was snapping photographs of ancient trees, in preparation for the last large painting that I’m working on, here in Belleville.

The light and the textures during this afternoon stroll, were remarkable!  The turtle antics were simply fun to watch!

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The Lake on the Mountain

Dad, my Auntie Mary and I headed up to the Lake of the Mountain in a bit of an around-about way, but that was okay.  We had a wonderful lunch (Dad’s treat), but I failed to get one of the waiters to snap a photograph of the three of us.  I think that this is a beautiful piece of landscape, with an interesting physical story.  I love coming here.

I remember, first, visiting the Lake on the Mountain the summer that my sister got married.  I’ve also enjoyed a lunch at the very same restaurant with my dear friends, John and David.

IMG_0490 IMG_0488 IMG_0484 IMG_0483 IMG_0481IMG_0497IMG_0501 IMG_0500IMG_0483The Lake on the Mountain will be starting to bottle their wonderful beers in the autumn; they are presently just sold by the keg.  I had a Reuben sandwich along with an IPA dark and it was a delicious pairing.

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IMG_0478 IMG_0477Good to see that my Auntie Mary is colouring in her colouring books!  Loved seeing her!  Thanks for the lunch, Dad!

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Perching on the Edge of the Bay of Quinte

Thank you, Maureen, for lunch.  Sharing time with dear friends is such a gift.  You have a pretty spectacular view from your balcony and I love how you were able to bring so much of your gardens to your new residence with you!  Thank you for lunch and conversation.  A real blessing!

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Elements of a cozy home…things that grow.

Good friends…dear friends.

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Dad…IMG_0346

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Dad Bottles Wine at Cold Creek Winery

It’s always nice to document something a little out-of-the-ordinary.  Dad has been working with Dave at Cold Creek Winery at 21 Mill Street, Frankford ever since he bought and made up his own kits out on Glen Miller Road, out Frankford-way.

I wasn’t any help at all, but enjoyed the interactions and the chat while Dad, assisted by Dave, bottled up three boxes of vino together.  Dave isn’t a real ‘technology/social media’ dude, but he offers such personalized and friendly business that he’s as busy as he needs to be!  I enjoy that, he’s an art enthusiast and a bit of a historian as well, so the stories that he shares are always colourful and entertaining.  I’ve always left having learned things, from my visits at Cold Creek and that’s awesome!

The process involves washing and rinsing bottles, filling, corking and heat-wrapping the tops.  Fantastic…and likely only took thirty minutes in total, maybe 45 because I learned about Dave’s enthusiasm for the art of artist, R. G. (Gary) Miller.  When I got home, I looked up his history and the back-story on the Mush Hole work and was saddened and captivated, all at the same time.

The image of the wooden sculpture that I’m going to post, a heron in flight, is not a completed sculpture, but was carved by Dave’s father.  It is so beautiful.

Thank you, Dave and Dad, for such a great afternoon.

Wine, of every variety, in carboys…everywhere!

IMG_0355 IMG_0356 Washing and rinsing…IMG_0361 IMG_0362 IMG_0363This gizmo vacuums the completed recipe into the bottles. IMG_0364 IMG_0366 Corker…my Dad’s a tough guy still!  Did the whole job!IMG_0367Yes!  That’s right!  A Calgary Flames jersey hanging out here in Ontario! IMG_0368 Stories abound, at this point.IMG_0371 IMG_0372 IMG_0375 IMG_0377Yup!  That would be 21 Mill Street…back in the day. IMG_0379 IMG_0380Front of the store. IMG_0382Beauty. IMG_0383Grateful…now, for a glass!

Sumac and Cedar

I was so excited to see the new gallery that gifts Bridge Street and Belleville.  Friends, Peter Paylor and Lisa Morris, took me under their artistic wings on my last visit in 2013.  Since then, they have opened a spectacular and vital space on Bridge called Artists & Artisans Studio and Gallery!  Whoot!  Love the sensibility and the openness to emerging and practicing artists of every variety.  These two are Makers and Shakers!  I’m so glad to be able to reconnect.

Peter Paylor’s art, both wood carvings and prints, was featured in the recent opening, Sumac and Cedar.  The artist harvests fallen and cast off wood and creates uplifting pieces of sculpture that are exquisite. Lisa’s jewelry and paintings are also exhibited throughout the well-loved space.  At the opening, hospitality was extended to this Calgary chick, by every one I met.

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Day 5 Iron Bridge to Belleville, Ontario

I purchased enough coffee to fill my travel mug, just to the left, traveling east, after the bridge in Iron Bridge.  The lovely woman working the pumps and making the coffee at 7:00 in the morning, was a beautiful, generous and kind person.  I got fixed up with a charger for my phone for a mere 4.99.  She was excited to chat and to help me set up my google trip on my phone, something I hadn’t done before.  FINALLY, my son-in-law will appreciate, I understand what it is to use my data when I’m without Wifi…not because of anything she said, but because I’ve been on a sudden and glorious learning curve with technology, because I’ve had to be.  This makes me smile.  I headed toward Sudbury…my birth place, pretty darned excited about the day’s drive.

Iron Bridge to Lindsay

I decided to travel via Orillia and then on to Lindsay, a place where I have family roots.  I wanted to spend some time in the town of Lindsay.  Typically, I hang around the Riverside Cemetery, loving up my ancestors.  On this trip, I wanted to see places that were important to my Gramma and Grampa Moors.

First-things-first, I pulled over to the first chip place I saw and ordered a huge helping of truly heavenly poutine!  I sat and chatted with a number of folks and certainly noticed that this was a very busy day out on the roads.  Cottage dwellers were heading home after their long weekend.  The trip south, in the direction of Toronto, was going to be crazy-ville!

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In Lindsay, I headed down Main Street, with the intention of finding the restaurant where my grand parents enjoyed their first date.  My grandfather shared this event, in detail, in his memoirs.  The date happened after a hockey game.  I’ve communicated with Nick, who is the current owner, but because it was a long weekend Sunday, of course, the restaurant wasn’t open.

My letter…

Hi there.
I believe my grandparent’s first date was shared in what appears to be your restaurant on Kent.  This would have been in the 1920s.  In my grandfather’s journal, he refers to the place as ‘The Greeks’ on Kent in Lindsay.  Apparently they had ice cream and there was a player piano set up where everyone stood around ‘yowling’ and singing and having a great time.  I would love it if you might scan/send me your oldest photograph possible of your location…and also, tell me if you have any link at all to the original family???  My families coming out of the area include Elliotts/Burrows and Moors/ Haddows from Hamilton. Would love to read your history somewhere.
 

Hi Kathleen, how lovely to hear from you! the original owners were the Bakogeorge family and then in the 1940’s the Tozios family took over the Olympia right up until 1980 when our family bought it. I love your story and would love to hear more. I am on holidays until the end of the month and when I return will be able to send you more pictures on file from that era.

Here it is…the Olympia, both front and back…also, a plaster detail that remains in the entrance area.

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From there, Max and I wandered and enjoyed a lovely walk around town.  I think that the downtown area of Lindsay is likely the most invigorated ‘downtown’ area that I’ve seen in a long time.  A real attraction are the facades and the architectural elements, very ornamental and unique detailing!

IMG_0205 IMG_0204 IMG_0203 IMG_0198 IMG_20160731_150442 IMG_0210 IMG_0209 IMG_0211A stop at a fast food place for coffee, and Max and I were off…our final leg of the journey and a bit of a variation on past trips because I headed for the Newcastle exit to the 401 and it worked without a hitch.  The 401 was wall to wall traffic, so this did create some anxiety.  It rained until I reached my Belleville exit, not surprising, given Dad’s description of this year’s drought.

L to Bell

Oh my gosh!  It was soooo wonderful to get a hug from my Dad…a meal…some wine.  It is a fantastic thing to do such a long road trip and to find yourself with someone you love at the very end of it.  Grateful!

 

Day 4 Thunder Bay to Iron Bridge

This is the drive on the northern Superior that I love the very most and brings up the most memories.  I recommend it for every one who wants to discover some of the ‘possibilities’ that Canada holds.  It was a brilliant blue day and a perfect one for enjoying the views.

At some point, in the middle of nowhere, one of the less-concerning warning lights came up on my dash as related to my key battery…this on a long weekend when absolutely nothing was going to be open and where for miles on end, I would be in secluded and wild country.  As a result (not, at this point, thinking about my option of the manual key stuck in the fob and hoping that the battery had no connection to the ignition at all…my Dodge manual was zero help in any of this), I didn’t stop at Rainbow Falls or Rossport…two of my favourite places, but I said, “To hell with it” and hung out at Neys after paying my entrance and Old Woman Bay.

Magic…this stretch of road is simply magic!  Drive it! The image below is posted from Google Maps…  Keep in mind that because there was not a single accommodation available in Sault Ste. Marie, I forged onward just past Elliott Lake and ended my day at Iron Bridge, a heavenly spot for sure!

T Bay to SooAfter picking up our continental breakfast…a banana…a boiled egg…a muffin and a travel mug full of coffee, Max and I were on our way.  I decided not to stop at the Terry Fox memorial this time (it was going to be a long day for driving), as has always been my tradition, but I found myself crying when I arrived at the marker on the highway that pointed out the spot where Terry’s run actually came to a halt.  Very powerful to think about that and so I drove for a while, just thinking about people in my life who have suffered cancer…are presently suffering cancer…and who have both lost and fought courageously, their battles with cancer.  Prayers were made.

This is the type of morning it was, looking out onto Lake Superior.

IMG_20160730_094619 IMG_0169 IMG_0167Speaking with bikers in Marathon on a former drive, I was told that this day’s bike ride was a more physical ride than going through the Rockies…lots of up and down and certainly the most amazing views, although I didn’t stop at a number of these scenic stops this time.  I like this blog post published by a motorcycle group.

I pulled in at Schreiber to see if there was a garage open for someone to check out the Journey, but it turns out that Terrace Bay was hosting a huge DragFest competition this long weekend and there was nothing but a pump available in town.  On I moved to Terrace Bay where the local mechanic was shifting around, getting things ready to go to the DragFest site.  What a lovely guy!  Chat with him sometime at Wayne’s Esso!  He gave me some time and some confidence that the warning light that was coming up was benign, not related to anything else and that I was safe to go.

This was a relief and so Max and I, on holiday Sunday, got out and wandered for a bit at Neys Provincial Park.  When my son was just a wee boy, I took him on a hike to a spot where I wanted to paint at Prisoner’s Cove.  While I painted a little board, he played around in the brush, on the rock, in the old wrecked boats and in the shallow pools of water.  Right in front of me, however, he dropped into Superior, holding onto a solid branch as he went.  The panel and palette got tossed to the side and I dragged him up out of the cold water.  We immediately headed back to the camp site.  Lake Superior is cold!!  I have saved the small panel painted at this location.

On the beaches of pink sand, one can regularly see the trains journeying the edges of the steep banks to the west…the Barclay Islands in plain view on clear days, out on the water.  This was a favourite location for Canada’s Group of Seven painters to work…in fact, this entire region of Algoma provided subjects for many landscape paintings, both well known and lesser known.  It was a great stop.

IMG_20160730_115850 IMG_20160730_115949 IMG_20160730_122615IMG_0172 IMG_0173 IMG_0182 IMG_0185Memories of the kids spending hours building driftwood huts and designs on this beach, come to the surface.  Happy memories of painting and exploring!

Good passing lanes through this highway, huge granite walls in earthy reds jutting up hundreds of feet as the driver crests each large hill to have a wall of blue water and sky open up to them.  A beautiful drive.

Another place I always stop on this route is Old Woman’s Bay…while Max and I have never seen this well populated, the heat had brought out a slew of swimmers, much to Max’s dismay.  He didn’t get to play stick in the water and wow, was it ever obvious that he remembered!  On leash, I let him, at the very least, get into the water enough to enjoy a big cool down and to drag some sand into the car.

IMG_0194 IMG_0195 IMG_0196 IMG_0193 I was a bit worried upon my arrival in Sault Ste. Marie that I didn’t have the energy to keep on to Sudbury, but after a search and many attempts to find a spot to sleep for the night, we had no choice but to try to make it another three hours on the road.  I cranked up the tunes and headed out onto the highway.  The land had flattened out now, contoured with rolling hills and treed areas.  I was happy to see a juvenile heron standing, alert, in a well-lit ditch and this made me feel as though everything was going to turn out and I cranked up the tunes.  Neil Young, Tracey Chapman, the Stones…I was pumped.

A short distance beyond the Elliott Lake turn off, I saw a few billboards that advertised lodging in smaller towns on the way to Sudbury.  Some miles on and I saw the Red Top from the highway.  The car ahead of me pulled in, and I followed, not far behind.  When I stepped into the registration office, the gentleman who spoke to me was also taking food out to customers in the restaurant adjoining.  OH!  The food looked so good.  When I asked about lodging for the night, he told me that he was down to his last two rooms and neither of them had television.  I explained that I was hungry and tired and I certainly didn’t need a television!  He gave me paper work and off he went to the diners.  A woman was busy slicing through a thick, beautifully frosted home made cake.

I looked at the art on the walls in the greeting area…looked carefully…really couldn’t believe it, but thought I was looking at six original pieces by Norval Morriseau.  When the gentleman returned to the counter I asked him if those were originals and he smiled, saying that he was a collector.  I was aghast.

He asked if I wanted dinner as the dining room was closed, but he could prepare me a meal for take out.  The room was 60.00, so I believed it would be a great evening for stuffed pork chop, potato pancakes, hot pickles and veg.  The tray was prepared with cloth napkin, real silverware and the works.  Once, I returned to the lovely room, I got Max out for a real run in their huge yard and then picked up my meal.  The wine was poured and the celebration began!

I thanked God for the Red Top and highly recommend it to anyone who has driven from 7 in the morning until 8…such a comfort.

IMG_20160730_203204 IMG_20160730_220700 IMG_20160730_220835The next day…home…so excited and so happy!