Donna Tartt’s exceptional book, The Goldfinch, isn’t promoted as a book about brain injury. However, as a person with brain injury, I couldn’t stop thinking about the consequences of brain injury on the characters and their behavior: impulsivity, poor judgement, fatigue, depression, suicidal ideation. The story begins with a bang that renders the narrator unconscious for a short while. The girl who attracted his interest is more seriously injured. I would love to ask the author about her experience with brain injury, something she first calls out as a concussion about 200 pages into the 784 page tome. Later she calls what the young woman experienced as head injury. She talks about the physical differences and hints at cognitive challenges. In any case, both characters survive and move on with their lives. The trauma of the situation and not the particulars of the head injury are what make for excellent storytelling.
On another level, I appreciate The Goldfinch as a work of artful writing. Tartt weaves a fast-moving, multilayered, and intriguing tale. More than once I felt my heart beating double-time. The Goldfinch is a can’t-put-the-book-down saga. The characters fully jump off of the page in lavish settings, from New York City to Las Vegas to Amsterdam. They live the high life and low life in all their described and inferred details. Tartt fills people, objects, and places with emotion; they become reality for awhile, real in ways that tweak the reader to feel love or hate. The art and furniture-filled scenarios were seductive to me, drawing me back to my first career life as a student and lover of 18th-century material culture and an ill-fated museum curator.
To say I loved this book is an understatement. I finished the book yesterday and today I miss Theo and Boris and Pippa. Now they layer over my consciousness and inspire me as a writer. I find my mind entertaining thoughts of writing a next book where brain injury lurks as a story line. I wonder how or if I can write a work of fiction that turns up the light on the topic so that it advocates, warns, and raises awareness about this disease without taking away the power of a good and entertaining read?