Title: The Little Friend
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 22, 2002
Rating: 4 Stars
Dear fellow Babblers,
I recently finished The Little Friend and though I’ve had nothing but the very best to say about Tartt thus far through my previous post (How to Review a quasi Proustian Novel: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch) as well as the comments I’ve been leaving all over other book reviewer’s posts about The Goldfinch and The Secret History, I can’t say the same will be done with The Little Friend in terms of narrative. BUT I stand by my theory of Tartt’s utterly vivid descriptive style that sweeps us into an imaginatively evocative world that we would otherwise have no access to.
So… rather than feed y’all some lengthy review recounting the numerous plot turns (dare I call them disappointing?) and sporadic alterations of focalizers (dare I call the shifts confusing?) that occur in this 555-page world, I figured I would instead paint you a panorama of the stiflingly idle and overbearingly tainted Alexandria, Mississippi where the story unfolds…
Bestselling author Donna Tartt returns with a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.
The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet – unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson–sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss.
A thirteen-year-old unruly girl, Harriet pursues the perpetrators responsible for her brother, Robin’s murder taking place twelve years prior when Harriet was just a baby. This Mississippi is hot, monotonous and streaming with racism, Sunday school and underground crime. Children spend their summers at Baptist camps, daylight hours are spent gazing out curtained windows listening to the obnoxius voice of the gameshow host on television, and nights are spent with a pint of peppermint ice cream and an overdue library book abandoned on the front porch. The lord is praised for right, the lord is praised for wrong, the lord is praised for right and wrong to come. Blacks are paid 25 dollars a week for sweat and labor. Blacks are shot at across the river. Blacks are accused and persecuted under the rightful and superior hand of whites. In this Mississippi only one train enters the Alexandria station: 7:14 am, and only one train leaves the Alexandria station: 8:47 pm. Overbearing grandmothers drive into highway ditches and ancient aunts protect against foul mouths and inappropriate non-christian behavior of the little ones. Snakes are feared and tantalized. 5-foot-long king cobra’s imported from a mysterious landscape in the far reaches of India are stolen by children and carried off in a wagon, and ultimately thrown over the county’s overpass with only one victim in mind: Daniel Ratliff, but as luck has it, the frail and shabby grandma Gem is instead the victim of this snake attack. In this Mississippi drugs are grown and consumed behind trailer homes on the far reaches of town. Powerful hands get away with murder and tattooed hooligans receive signs from God and become preachers in the street. In the hazy and dreary dust of Alexandria inhabitants wait all through the boring waking hours for peaceful exuberance promised in sleeping dreams…
The hunt and revenge of Robin’s murder happens somewhere within the hodgepodge of elaborately atmospheric imagery that penetrates The Little Friend. I don’t know about you guys, but the plot itself (a semi-murder mystery that is pursued by a spunky, tom-boyish gal and her perhaps too-romantic buddy) and its characters made me feel stuck somewhere in between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If it wasn’t for Tartt’s prolific use of language and illustrative descriptions of Alexandria, Mississippi, I’m not so sure The Little Friend could be saved… *tear*tear*
Comments? Ideas? Thoughts? Tell me whatcha think!
(Book image credits go to Google).