Although the Cleves generally revelled in every detail of their family history, the events of 'the terrible Mother's Day' were never, ever discussed. On that day, nine-year-old Robin Cleves, loved by all for his whims and peculiarities, was found hanging by the neck from a rope slung over a black-tupelo tree in his own garden. Eleven years later, ...
Although the Cleves generally revelled in every detail of their family history, the events of 'the terrible Mother's Day' were never, ever discussed. On that day, nine-year-old Robin Cleves, loved by all for his whims and peculiarities, was found hanging by the neck from a rope slung over a black-tupelo tree in his own garden. Eleven years later, the mystery - with its taunting traces of foul play - was no nearer a solution than it had been on the day it happened.This isn't good enough for Robin's youngest sister Harriet. Only a baby when the tragedy occurred, but now twelve-years-old and steeped in the adventurous daring of favourite writers such as Stevenson, Kipling and Conan Doyle, Harriet is ready and eager to find and punish her brother's killer. Her closest friend Hely - who would try anything to make Harriet love him - has sworn allegiance to her call for revenge. But the world these plucky twelve-year-olds are to encounter has nothing to do with child's play: it is dark, adult and all too menacing. In Donna Tartt's Mississippi, the sense of place and sense of the past mingle redolently with rich human drama to create a collective alchemy. Here eccentric great aunts bustle about graciously despite faded fortunes and a child's inquiring mind not only unearths telling family artefacts, but stirs up a neighbourhood nest of vipers and larceny. THE LITTLE FRIEND is a profoundly involving novel which demonstrates how the imaginary life embraces what literature we read, what special places we inhabit and what kindred souls we recognize, to help crack open even the darkest secrets life has hiding for us.
Tartt's second novel was well worth the wait. Part Flannery O'Connor, part Harper Lee, THE LITTLE FRIEND is beautifully written. It's moody, tense, vivid, and incredibly satisfying. You must read this book.
Jun 19, 2007
Don't expect another Secret History
If you were one of those who read Tartt's brilliant The Secret History and waited ten years for her second novel don't expect another rehash of the same.
Instead, Donna Tartt offers up a sultry story of Southern mores reminiscent of Harper Lee or Carson McCullers. Donna Tartt (whom I happened to meet at a reading for this novel) said that she is highly influenced by Flannery O'Connor and if you're familiar with O'Connor's work you will know that O'Connor writes very dark material and has a tendency of ending her stories in a distinctly trademark manner.
Tartt follows suit and the only beef I could find with the novel is trying to pinpoint exactly what decade this occurs. One scene describes a character as having the afro of a Black man, white bell-bottoms and a corduroy suit jacket giving the feeling that this takes place in the early to mid 70s. Another scene has a character making a brief reference to the yellow fever outbreak back in '79 making it possible for this novel to take place in the early 80s. I'm hard pressed to tell when The Little Friend occurs.
Plot isn't the driving force here, instead the characters are. If you prefer plot development over character development then this isn't the novel for you. Essentially, this is a novel about loss: the loss of childhood innocence, the loss of loved ones, the loss of friendships. Tartt's prose is so intense, I could feel Harriet's sense of hopelessness and despair as the world she knows changes and falls apart around her. Who doesn't remember as a child when you begin to understand the harsh realities of life? When you're faced with Death for the first time? When you begin to realize that you're no longer a child anymore and that the world can be an ugly place?
The story in a nutshell: Harriet's brother is murdered when she is a baby. 12 years later her family has fallen apart. Dad is never home, on the verge on leaving the family and Mom is a alcoholic stuck in time not fully recovered from the murder of her son. 12 year old Harriet decides if she can slove the murder she can restore her family. Soon after she opens up a Pandora's box of secrets and suspense.
Donna Tartt once again writes a thought provoking and compelling novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Her characters are very real and she tells a gripping, page turning, roller coaster ride of a tale with a nailbiting climax. Donna Tartt truly is an inspiration to me (which I had the pleasure of telling her). I highly anticipate her next novel.
Publishers Weekly, 2002-09-09 Widely anticipated over the decade since her debut in The Secret History, Tartt's second novel confirms her talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality. If the theme of The Secret History was intellectual arrogance, here it is dangerous innocence. The death of nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dufresnes, found hanging from a tree in his own backyard in Alexandria, Miss., has never been solved. The crime destroyed his family: it turned his mother into a lethargic recluse; his father left town; and the surviving siblings, Allison and Harriet, are now, 12 years later-it is the early '70s-largely being raised by their black maid and a matriarchy of female relatives headed by their domineering grandmother and her three sisters. Although every character is sharply etched, 12-year-old Harriet-smart, stubborn, willful-is as vivid as a torchlight. Like many preadolescents, she's fascinated by secrets. She vows to solve the mystery of her brother's death and unmask the killer, whom she decides, without a shred of evidence, is Danny Ratliff, a member of a degenerate, redneck family of hardened criminals. (The Ratliff brothers are good to their grandmother, however; their solicitude at times lends the novel the antic atmosphere of a Booth cartoon.) Harriet's pursuit of Danny, at first comic, gathers fateful impetus as she and her best friend, Hely, stalk the Ratliffs, and eventually, as the plot attains the suspense level of a thriller, leads her into mortal danger. Harriet learns about betrayal, guilt and loss, and crosses the threshold into an irrevocable knowledge of true evil. If Tartt wandered into melodrama in The Secret History, this time she's achieved perfect control over her material, melding suspense, character study and social background. Her knowledge of Southern ethos-the importance of family, of heritage, of race and class-is central to the plot, as is her take on Southerners' ability to construct a repertoire, veering toward mythology, of tales of the past. The double standard of justice in a racially segregated community is subtly reinforced, and while Tartt's portrait of the maid, Ida Rhew, evokes a stereotype, Tartt adds the dimension of bitter pride to Ida's character. In her first novel, Tartt unveiled a formidable intelligence. The Little Friend flowers with emotional insight, a gift for comedy and a sure sense of pacing. Wisely, this novel eschews a feel-good resolution. What it does provide is an immensely satisfying reading experience. (Nov. 1) Forecast: Bestsellerdom is writ large for this novel, sure to be greeted with rave reviews. The softspoken, diminutive Tartt, who looks more like a Southern belle than a writer with a dark imagination, should be an asset on talk shows. For more on Tartt, see Book News in today's issue. 300,000 first printing. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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