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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

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The Little Friend


The Little Friend Cover




For the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son?s death because she had decided to have the Mother?s Day dinner at six in the evening instead of noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it. Dissatisfaction had been expressed by the elder Cleves at the new arrangement; and while this mainly had to do with suspicion of innovation, on principle, Charlotte felt that she should have paid attention to the undercurrent of grumbling, that it had been a slight but ominous warning of what was to come; a warning which, though obscure even in hindsight, was perhaps as good as any we can ever hope to receive in this life.

Though the Cleves loved to recount among themselves even the minor events of their family history?repeating word for word, with stylized narrative and rhetorical interruptions, entire death-bed scenes, or marriage proposals that had occurred a hundred years before?the events of this terrible Mother?s Day were never discussed. They were not discussed even in covert groups of two, brought together by a long car trip or by insomnia in a late-night kitchen; and this was unusual, because these family discussions were how the Cleves made sense of the world. Even the cruelest and most random disasters?the death, by fire, of one of Charlotte?s infant cousins; the hunting accident in which Charlotte?s uncle had died while she was still in grammar school?were constantly rehearsed among them, her grandmother?s gentle voice and her mother?s stern one merging harmoniously with her grandfather?s baritone and the babble of her aunts, and certain ornamental bits, improvised by daring soloists, eagerly seized upon and elaborated by the chorus, until finally, by group effort, they arrived together at a single song; a song which was then memorized, and sung by the entire company again and again, which slowly eroded memory and came to take the place of truth: the angry fireman, failing in his efforts to resuscitate the tiny body, transmuted sweetly into a weeping one; the moping bird dog, puzzled for several weeks by her master?s death, recast as the grief-stricken Queenie of family legend, who searched relentlessly for her beloved throughout the house and howled, inconsolable, in her pen all night; who barked in joyous welcome whenever the dear ghost approached in the yard, a ghost that only she could perceive. ?Dogs can see things that we can?t,? Charlotte?s aunt Tat always intoned, on cue, at the proper moment in the story. She was something of a mystic and the ghost was her innovation.

But Robin: their dear little Robs. More than ten years later, his death remained an agony; there was no glossing any detail; its horror was not subject to repair or permutation by any of the narrative devices that the Cleves knew. And?since this willful amnesia had kept Robin?s death from being translated into that sweet old family vernacular which smoothed even the bitterest mysteries into comfortable, comprehensible form?the memory of that day?s events had a chaotic, fragmented quality, bright mirror-shards of nightmare which flared at the smell of wisteria, the creaking of a clothes-line, a certain stormy cast of spring light.

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Kebi, January 19, 2015 (view all comments by Kebi)
After reading The Goldfinch last year (and being blown away by Tartt's storytelling and writing brilliance - again - I decided to go back and re-read The Little Friend, which I read originally when it first came out. It was memorable then, though I'd forgotten much (10 years!). It seemed even richer than I remembered. What I loved: 1) her beautiful and affecting prose, 2) her breathtaking storytelling that seized me and didn't let go until the end, and 3) her ability to enter "foreign" worlds (in this case, a southern childhood) and inhabit them like a native, and to take you there so you felt like a native too. Someone mentioned Lord of the Flies in a review of this novel, and the reference is apt (though Lord of the Flies left me far more depressed). These are children, but no less purposeful and intense about their lives than the most intense adult. The book was full of jaw dropping scenes, heartbreaking ones, funny ones, and terrifying ones, as well as simply being full of beauty. I really loved this book. (An aside: I loved The Goldfinch too, but The Secret History - not so much. I couldn't get into it but maybe I'll try again one of these days.)

I strongly recommend The Little Friend to fans of The Goldfinch and to everyone who appreciates genius literary fiction.
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MargPDX, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by MargPDX)
I loved this book. I just re-read it to lead a discussion for my book club. The characters snap and the dark humor is a delight.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
Deborah Fochler, August 19, 2007 (view all comments by Deborah Fochler)
If you want a book to read fast - this is not the one for you. I am an avid reader and had to stop and drag out a dictionary at least twice. Ms. Tartt loves big words and lots of them. But this story is worth the effort. It is not what I expected at the beginning but still delves into the psyche of children and adults alike. It is emotional, scary and at times extremely disturbing and yet at moments you feel the "love" of this family and their hurt and pain and search for the revelations of all the secrets - the need to know what happened to a loved one. And that is the saving grace of this novel - the love of family.
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Product Details

Tartt, Donna
Tartt, Donna
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
October 28, 2003
Grade Level:
8 x 5.13 x 1.12 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

The Little Friend Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 640 pages Vintage - English 9781400031696 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Tartt is able to quietly transform the book from a patient study of a family's disassembly and despair to a gut-thumping story of a little girl seeking a measure of understanding and well-deserved revenge....Though absent of the twisted sexual tension of East Coast blue bloods that so thoroughly inhabited The Secret History, Tartt's first novel, The Little Friend is a more focused read, a deeper exploration of the dark manner in which the past never leaves us alone."
"Review" by , "A far more emotionally resonant novel than its predecessor....[Ms. Tartt] makes palpable the losses that the family has sustained over the years."
"Review" by , "In this review, I can tell you that The Little Friend — her second novel, arriving 10 years after The Secret History — is overlong, its writing occasionally precious and its resolution murky; and I can also praise the book's vital characters, its supple conjuring of mood and place, and its dry, dark humor. But I can't explain how it is that this is a novel you sink into, or how Tartt casts her weird spell. I suspect, however, that it has nothing to do with acquired technique or any understanding of real life; no doubt she picked up the knack during a lifetime of obsessive and probably unhealthy reading. Wherever she got it, she sure knows how to write the sort of book that people who want to get lost in a book get lost in."
"Review" by , "[L]anguidly atmospheric....[B]y the time you get to page 543, you're so engrossed in just about everything but the murder that you no longer care who dunnit....[I]t takes you somewhere worth going."
"Review" by , "The Little Friend is a terrific story....By now it should be obvious what Tartt's been up to since The Secret History came out: she's been slaving away on this extraordinary book."
"Review" by , "[D]estined to become a special kind of classic — a book that precocious young readers pluck from their parents' shelves and devour with surreptitious eagerness..."
"Review" by , "[V]ery long, very overheated, yet absorbing....Despite an overload of staggered false climaxes, it's all quite irrationally entertaining....Tartt appears to have struck gold once again."
"Review" by , "[A] sprawling story of vengeance...told in a rich, controlled voice that can come only from long effort....[A] grownup book that captures the dark, Lord of the Flies side of childhood and classic children's literature."
"Review" by , "[W]ell worth the long wait....[A]n exceptionally suspenseful, flawlessly written story fairly teeming with outsize characters and roiling emotion."
"Review" by , "[C]onfirms [Tartt's] talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality....The Little Friend flowers with emotional insight, a gift for comedy and a sure sense of pacing."
"Review" by , "Because of Tartt's mastery of suspense, this book will grip most readers all the way through to its bitter end....Although this is a large novel, Tartt has created a claustrophobic world in which there is little possibility of freedom for any character."
"Review" by , "Breathtaking....A sublime tale rich in religious overtones, moral ambiguities, and violent, poetic acts....From its darkly enticing opening, we are held spellbound."
"Review" by , "Readers are easily swept up....At times humorous, at times heartbreaking, The Little Friend is most surprising when it is edge-of-your-seat scary."
"Review" by , "[B]y the time you get to page 543, you're so engrossed in just about everything but the murder that you no longer care who dunnit. And, by that point, you suspect that Tartt doesn't care, either....[The Littel Friend] takes the shape of a murder mystery, but it's not really about a death at all. It's about a way of life....The fact that The Littel Friend turns out to be quite different from the thriller that the reader...may have expected is a serious flaw. And yet as a novel of Southern manners it succeeds remarkably well....The Little Friend doesn't get where it was headed..., but there's no question that it takes you somewhere worth going."
"Synopsis" by , A grandly ambitious and riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.
"Synopsis" by , The hugely anticipated new novel by the author of The Secret History. Even more transfixingly suspenseful than its predecessor, this is a dark work of lost childhood, rich in moral paradox, as a 12-year-old Mississippi girl sets out to find her brother's murderer.
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