CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: Michelle Obama Reviews The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

by Courtney Maum

Although I have an affinity for labored storytelling (Have you heard my husband answer a question in a debate?), I have to admit that Donna Tartt’s latest took a loooong time to get good.

Of course, waiting is part of the game when it comes to Donna Tartt: she writes a book a decade. Normally, that kind of anticipation comes with a major pay-off, such as the delivery of a taughtly wrought, impossible-to-put-down book like The Secret History. But as for The Goldfinch… I just — listen. Between our new dog showing an affinity for toddler tackling and the fact that the Affordable Care act is only affordable if you have seventeen days to spend online, it’s been a stressful year.

I could have done with two hundred less pages dedicated to the rampant drug abuse and dietary deficiencies of two teenaged boys.

To recap: The Goldfinch tells the story of a certain Theo Decker who loses his beloved mother in an explosion in the Metropolitan Museum when he’s just thirteen years old. (No I didn’t! This info’s on the dust jacket.) Before escaping the building, Theo makes off with a priceless piece of art — “The Goldfinch,” an oil painting by the underproductive (and therefore very valued) Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. Rather than return the painting to the museum, Theo decides to hold on to it for decades…in a drug store plastic bag.

Now, I’m no art historian but when it comes to safeguarding the posterity of such a masterpiece, personally, I’d trust the Metropolitan over Duane Reade, but that’s just Michelle Obama.

Along his journey towards adulthood, Theo loses other people who are close to him, and thus his ineptitude in art conservation could be blamed on grief. However, being the mother of two girls who literally brightened after I swapped out their paltry breakfast cereal for sweet red quinoa, I blame Theo Decker’s character flaws on sub-par nutrition.

Reading The Goldfinch will give people an idea of why I’ve made healthy eating choices such a focal point of my legacy in the White House.

The Appalachian apiculturists I had install a hundred hives behind the staff parking lot? We’ve got the best honey balsamic dressing in the not-for-profit business. And the White House Kitchen Garden was so successful, it’s got its own book. Now, if we could only get our HealthCare.gov site developers to swap out their Cup Noodles for bulgur wheat pilaf, maybe we’d all have health insurance by now, ha ha. But I digress. Did I say it’s been a tough year? God, I have a headache.

Back we go gently into that not-so-good night. Once his mother passes, poor Theo has a hell of a time nourishing himself. By the age of fourteen — at which point young boys need a healthy diet of protein and iron, natch — Theo’s living on potato chips, vodka, and a kaleidoscope of pharmaceutical drugs.

I’m afraid that his poor food choices end up coloring his life. Even later on, when Theo starts dining out with Manhattan’s golden crust, he eschews solids for liquids. Natural adrenaline for bright pills.

It’s a shame Theo Decker doesn’t turn to exercise to keep his mind on track. This is one of the tenets of the “Let’s Move” program I developed in 2010, that good decision making and fitness go hand in hand. If only he’d tried the elliptical machine before he turned to …well. You’ll have to read the book to hear just how bad things get.

I was gladdened, however, to find a fellow sartorialist in Tartt’s protagonist.

Throughout the second half of the novel, our anti-hero steps out in all manners of bespoke suits, including Turnbull and Asser, and my personal favorite, Thom Browne. I wish he’d thrown a Jason Wu in there, but I’m afraid that young Decker’s circle is a whites-only kind of crowd.

Maybe it’s the time of year, the year itself, the decade, but I didn’t find Donna Tartt’s latest quite as enthralling as I’d hoped. The lawyer in me wasn’t satisfied with the fact that we never found out who or what organization was behind the museum bombing, nor, for that matter, was my First Lady self. And nothing came of all the titillating homoeroticism in the second part of the book! As a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, I was particularly disappointed not to see this angle explored. But the proof is in the pudding. Or in this case, the pockets. He wore Turnbull and Asser, not Jason Wu.

All this being said, in The Goldfinch Donna Tartt still delivers an engrossing read that paints a chiaroscuro portrait of a young boy from a broken family, who is broken further by his own greed.

It’s the Pop Tart to tea sandwich version of the American dream, except that the dream ends in a blow-up pool of bargain gin.

If I was disappointed by this novel, maybe it’s because it felt like a foreshadowing of the wasteland that could befall us if things remain this glum. Just the other day — I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to — I found Barack drinking a Caramel Frappucino in his desk chair, the rings of squirted caramel and whipped cream pressing out against the plastic lid as if the glass itself could not contain such decadence.

I’m not sure where the next decade will find me, but I hope I’ll be somewhere tropical on a padded lounge chair in a tasteful one-piece, coconut Mai Tai in one hand, the latest Donna Tartt in the other. Yes, we can dream on.

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

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Editor’s note: Any resemblances to actual celebrities — alive or dead — are miraculously coincidental. For more Celebrity Book Reviews, click here.

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