Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Little Friend: Excellent story telling but unsatisfying ending

The Little FriendThe Little Friend by Donna Tartt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harriet, akin to Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a bright, tough tomboy of a 12-year-old growing up in Mississippi. The death of her older brother 11 years previously casts a shadow over her whole family and life. Her parents are essentially separated, and she lives with her mother and sister and African-American housekeeper, in a household swathed in grief. She receives more care from her grandmother and maiden aunts than her own parents give her.

She and her friend Hely decide to track down her older brother's murderer (the case was never solved) and they begin to stalk a family of low-life brothers, "country folk."

Overall, this is a deeply sad story, with race and class implications. Anytime I read about a child who grows up lacking love and attention, it makes me sad.

Tartt does an excellent job of setting the scene and describing the many characters in depth. Many readers believe that this novel moves too slowly, but I thought it was a very interesting read.

I have two quibbles with this book. One is that a character, presumed to be dead, is not dead...and the circumstances are way too far-fetched. Second, I found the ending to be highly unsatisfying. I prefer books with more conclusion to them--I think that's another reason why other readers have been unhappy with this book.

So if you like plots to be wrapped around in a nice package at the end, you should probably avoid this book. But if you enjoy excellent story telling and command of language, and don't mind a slow-moving plot, you should give it a try.

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