The Goldfinch is
a coming-of-age story enclosed in a thriller. Teenaged Theo Decker and
his single-parent mother are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a
terrorist bomb goes off. His mother is killed. Theo escapes with a
real-life painting, The Goldfinch, done
in 1654 by Rembrandt student Carel Fabritius. Instead of returning the
painting, Theo hides it, setting in motion the rest of the plot.
Theo’s problems deserve sympathy — a deadbeat, criminal father, grandparents who don’t want him, alcohol and drug abuse, unrequited love, and a brush with the underworld of art theft. But it’s hard to feel sympathetic toward him, even after he wants to return the painting but can’t find a credible way to do so. His friend Boris, who leads around the mostly passive Theo, is eccentric enough to be interesting, but his deeds are ultimately inexcusable. As much as Boris is supposed to be Theo’s best buddy, you wonder how Theo might have fared had they never met.
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