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The Little Friend
by Donna Tartt


From Booklist
*Starred Review* Tartt's second novel (following The Secret History, 1992) is well worth the long wait. It is an exceptionally suspenseful, flawlessly written story fairly teeming with outsize characters and roiling emotion, and at its center, in the eye of the storm, is a ruthlessly clever, poker-faced 12-year-old named Harriet. When she was just a baby, her nine-year-old brother, Robin, was murdered. In the years since, her mother has been entirely defeated by her grief, often lying in bed with a headache, while her father has been absent, working in another town. Harriet's stern grandmother and dithering aunts have idealized and exalted Robin, leaving Harriet and her sister feeling wholly inadequate. After suffering an immense loss--the firing of her "beloved, grumbling, irreplaceable" black maid and surrogate mother--Harriet decides to get revenge on Danny Ratliff, the man she believes murdered her brother. She thinks she can resurrect the happy family she knows only from photographs. With muscular, visceral descriptive prose and a relentless narrative drive--the climax is almost unbearably tense--Tartt details how a young girl exacts street justice with cold cunning. And the abusive Ratliffs are a stunning creation; hopped up on methamphetamine and twisted dynamics, they are a modern-day version of Faulkner's Snopes family. Tartt's first novel was a surprise runaway best-seller; this time around, no one should be taken by surprise. Joanne Wilkinson


From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, September 12, 2003 08:25 AM The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (SPOILERS ABOUND) Laura Miller at Salon.com writes this: “...I can tell you that "The Little Friend"... 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.” And lost in it I became. There were times where I literally couldn’t put the book down, and I really wanted to. It was late, I was sleepy, and I knew that what I was reading might keep me awake. None of it mattered. I was completely sucked in. When it was over, even though it was long, I was thinking ...”That’s it?” I thought the ending was rather abrupt. I wanted to find out if Harriet had to move to Nashville. I wanted to find out if they stuck her with a false diagnosis of epilepsy. I wanted to find out how the authorities found Danny, and if he did, indeed get sick. I wanted to find out what ever happened in the lawsuit against Edie. It’s like they’re still carrying on their lives, and they won’t let me gawk anymore. And of course I wanted them all to find out the core mystery of the whole thing. And here I am still wondering. What a character Harriet is. She’s like a cross between Scout and Ahab. Dark and obsessive and in complete possession of a whole family’s stash of anger. I kept wanting to make them all go to therapy and maybe get on some heavy duty anti-depressants. But I grew up in the South, and all the reactions in the book seemed spot on. You don’t ask for help; you take what’s meted out; you work with what God gives you. For Miller’s entire review go to: http://www.salon.com/books/review/2002/11/11/tartt/ Sherry
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, September 12, 2003 11:12 AM I couldn't put it down either. Except for the times when it was so scary I HAD to put it down and take a breather. Can this woman write a villain or what? And that snake scene almost blew the hair off my head. R
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Friday, September 12, 2003 10:00 PM I tried reading this and couldn't read past the scene where the gets draw pictures of their goals. I, frankly, didn't see much of a plot and I returned the book to the library. Because of comments here and a two hour commute, I listened to the book on CD read by Donna Tartt. This improved nothing for me but since I had little else to do on the commute, I listened to the whole thing. In addition to Sherry's questions, I want to know how Harriet got out of the water tower after her encounter with Danny. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, September 12, 2003 10:42 PM She climbed out on the rusty ladder, but Danny's weight was too much for it and it gave way. R
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Saturday, September 13, 2003 11:51 AM Thanks, Ruth. In the middle of reading and then listening to this novel, I wanted to come hear and beg for spoilers. I found this book tedious. I'm sure that she was paid by the word. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 01:05 PM Finished it last night, and wound up somewhere between Sherry and Dean regarding the book. It is overlong. Parts even became tedious. But I couldn't stop! I wonder if Tartt named her heroine after Fitzhugh's (of Harriet the Spy)? I like to think so; it's a nice nod to a well known character. One of the reasons I think the book ran a lot longer than it really had to was in order to allow Tartt to delve into characteristics of Southern towns and families that had nothing to do with the mystery of Robin's death. She obviously prefers the city neighborhoods to the later housing developments outside town. (This in contrast to the general decay of the city; at times I was unsure whether it was a decaying city!) She took on the importance of and grossly unfair treatment of blacks in these small towns. A few times she compared their lives to the lives of white families like the Odum's and Ratliff's. And there was probably more I'm forgetting to mention here. Of the many angles one could go about discussing this book, of course, the biggie is how this family failed to make any effort to recover from that one big tragedy, leaving it all to Harriet. All of that probably contributes to the book club aspect of The Little Friend. Speaking of that, is Danny the little friend (of Robin)? The web page Dale linked to above said that Tartt's first title for the book was "Tribulation". That would have been too precious, I think. It was almost too precious to call the old house Tribulation, not the sort of name seen on grand old Southern homes. Regarding the unanswered questions: In my mind Edie got that house cleaned up, and they did not move to Nashville. Danny was toast; even if he was alive when they pulled him out, it was only by a thread. Edie settled with the driver she plowed into, and either regained enough through inheritance from Libby to continue the same life, or she moved in with Charlotte to see to Ida's work. (If it was true that Libby left something for Odean in the cedar chest, and it probably was, she never got it.) Charlotte couldn't handle a house and children, that much is certain. Tonya
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 01:14 PM Forgot one thing: Ruth, I'm not so sure Harriet didn't have epilepsy. There were two of three strange episodes before the water tower, one which I read several times in an attempt to understand what was happening. These scenes described twitching or slapping at air, visual disturbances, time expansion and contraction. Tonya
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 01:34 PM It was Sherry that wondered about the epilepsy diagnosis. I was sure that the epilepsy had come from brain damage when she was holding her breath for so long in that water tank. But now that you mention it, Tonya, I remember those episodes, too, and I think you're right on the mark. Didn't you love the dialog of the Ratliff family? I think the problem with this book, and why it seemed overlong to some, is that it never decided exactly what kind of book it was. Just when you settled in for a murder mystery, it became a study of the psychological aftereffects of a murder. Then just when you got on that train, it switched to black/white relationships, then all of a sudden it was saying something scathing about new developments. And I agree with Sherry, it did end rather abruptly. Not only did I want more, but my immediate reaction was, "Now what was THAT all about?" The story didn't end, it just stopped. I don't like stories that tie everything up with a pretty pink ribbon at the end. In fact, I especially like those that leave you with questions. But I think the questions here were more of the "what happened next?" kind that Sherry was talking about, rather than the larger existential questions that would give the book a deeper meaning. Still, I was in for the ride. Whatta read. R
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 02:38 PM Thanks for that clarification, Ruth. It was Sherry. There can be no doubt Tartt grew up in Mississippi, she had the pronunciation and vernacular of the lower class down cold. She did not bother to render the accents of the middle or upper classes, but that is just as well to me. Actually, I am a little surprised it didn't give non-Southerners a bit of trouble. Probably in a book with as many WORDS as this one has, any number of other stories will be evoked. The first and most obvious (to me) was Harriet the Spy, but along the way I was frequently reminded of The Corrections, because Tartt, like Franzen, used mealtimes to contrast the family groups dynamics. For the Ratliffs, dinnertime was a battlefield. For Harriet, it was solitary and shameful in contrast to Hely's hot family dinners. The Corrections led to the Thanksgiving dinner, The Little Friend started with the Mother's Day dinner. Of all the things this book is, I never felt I was reading a true murder mystery. Something told me right away not to hold my breath for the answer to that! I recalled a book from years and years ago about the effects of a random murder on a small neighborhood (A Coat of Varnish?); I was aghast at the end that the murder was not resolved-- it ate at me!-- I was not willing to go through that again. Her story, it seems to me, was the psychological aftereffects among fading gentry. She just let herself get carried away with a lot of other stuff. Not that she didn't do it well! I thought she did. Tonya
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 02:52 PM Are we to take Harriet to be a hero because she undid Danny? Yet, correct me if I am wrong, there is no evidence that Danny killed Robin. She goes after Danny with nothing more than spite and prejudice. The fact that we know Danny to be so bad provides the irony on which Harriet's heroism rests when in actual fact she is a psychotic, the consequence of the family's unresolved grief. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 03:33 PM No, of course I didn't use the word "heroine" thoughtfully. She is not a hero, but the main character. Danny's undoing had an inevitability to it, with or without Harriet, though. If Farish (what a strange name!) hadn't got him, somebody would have. Really I was surprised that although Harriet watched the end of his attempt to murder Farish, not a lot was made of it after. Like, in the hospital, as she was feeling guilty that he didn't murder Robin, it seems to me she could have thought "but he was a murderer". >>"She goes after Danny with nothing more than spite and prejudice. The fact that we know Danny to be so bad provides the irony on which Harriet's heroism rests when in actual fact she is a psychotic, the consequence of the family's unresolved grief." I pretty much agree with this, even though I'd never have put it in such clear terms! Tonya
From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 04:20 PM Tonya, sorry, I didn't mean that we shouldn't refer to Harriet as a "heroine." I think that that there is some justification to the use of the word because of the moral background which Tartt fabricated. I think that this moral ambiguity would have been more effective if Danny had been shown to have had some redeeming qualities. As it is it seems to me a bit trite. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003 07:05 PM Maybe I missed something, but I didn't see where Dale posted a website link about Tartt on this thread. Maybe a different one? I remember a woman in the book dying suddenly (now who was it?) where she was flapping at the air and acting as if she were warding off something. It seemed there was some deep dark meaning to that that I never understood. I seem to recall Harriet doing that once. I thought it was a physical reaction to her dreamlike feeling that something sinister was after her. You think holding your breath for a long time can bring on epilepsy? I've never heard of that. But I suppose it could cause a kind of brain damage. I just really never thought that she actually had epilepsy. It just seemed like another way that her family and people who had authority over her totally misunderstood her. Sherry
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Monday, September 15, 2003 01:25 AM Sher, the link Dale posted is in the topic above this, "The next book". What you remember, I think, was not a character in the book who died "flapping", but a story about strange things happening. One of the old aunts told about twin sisters in a nearby town who died on the same day exactly a year apart, in the same way (epileptic seizure). Each of them walked through a door, swatted the air in front of them, then dropped dead. Now you mention it, maybe I took this as a clue that Harriet had epilepsy too? At the same time (or was that later?) we get the story about a hat that mysteriously appeared in Libby's (?) bedroom near the time Robin was murdered. Much as I figured on that and anything else I read, I couldn't make sense of it as a clue to Robin's murder. It just annoyed me by feeling so much like a hint, but leading nowhere. Tonya
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, September 15, 2003 10:35 AM Now that I think of it, there were two places where a hat mysteriously appeared on a bed. One was the Aunt Libby episode, and once was one of the meth brothers. Can't remember which. What in the world was that about? Seemed like a red herring. Can't for the life of me understand why Tartt put that in there, except maybe to give a kind of mystical atmosphere to the book. Sherry
From: Marty Priola mpriola@midsouth.rr.com Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 01:05 AM It's been a long time since I read this book, but I'm going to comment upon it anyway. My chief reaction to the book was that Tartt was not in control of her material. I enjoyed her observations, and the picture of the South she paints was pretty authentic, though I had some trouble with the exact time period of the book. It seemed to me to be set sometime in the 70s or 80s, but I was constantly unclear about exactly when it was happening. Also, I didn't like Harriet. Protagonist she was, but she also seemed to me kind of bratty. That makes sense, given her family's circumstances. I wanted, however, to know a great deal more about her almost ghostly sister. She seemed to me much more interesting, but Tartt avoided telling us anything about her. I wanted to think that Harriet was a bit like Sherlock Holmes, but that never quite gelled -- and that may have been my own prejudice going in. Literary references, as I remember, abounded. I kept thinking about (was it) Kipling and Ricky Ticky Tavvy (or whatever the name of the story about all the snakes was -- was that even Kipling?) Contrasting that book with Tartt's first is instructive -- both books are chock-a-block full of atmosphere, but it seems to exist in The Little Friend for its own sake, rather than in service of the story. The Secret History gothicism worked -- and that story was set in Vermont, if I remember correctly. The Little Friend, however, struck me as that sort of book Faulkner was talking about in the Nobel Prize speech. There was a lot of flash and not much substance. What's that sentence, too from that speech? Man must teach himself that the basest of all emotions is to be afraid, and having learned that, put it away. The Little Friend strikes me, at this remove (I read it in its uncorrected proof form, about a year ago) as being essentially a book about fear. And nothing else. More's the pity, since Tartt is capable of transcendent and marvelous writing -- and individual scenes and characters in this book work quite well, but the book is so sprawling that it loses its focus. And...I still want to know who killed her brother. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Boo Radley, and my memory of it is that neither of the brothers is a viable suspect, except in Harriet's mind. I don't mean to sound uncharitable. I enjoyed the book a great deal, and I talked to Donna Tartt about it when she came here for a signing. She read the snake scene -- with Heley and Harriet in the subdivision -- and it was chilling. There's a lot to like about the book, but I have the feeling it's not finished. It's either too short or too long. And it's not paced well. --Marty
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 01:23 AM I kept feeling that the moony older sister had the key to the tale, and that sooner or later she would open up. But she was just like the hat on the bed. R
From: Sara Chamberlin serafinawrites@msn.com Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 07:44 AM I read this over a year ago, and spent at least one night up until about four in the morning finishing it. As a caveat, I suppose I should say that I am not a fan of The Secret History. The only portion that worked for me in that book was the sort of novella in the center about the narrator's isolation during winter break in Vermont. Anyway, I loved The Little Friend. I know there are many places that objections can be raised. I normally would scream and stamp my feet about the lack of resolution--I find that to be soooo convenient for the writer--but for whatever reason, I felt just fine about the loose ends with this one. I suspected from the beginning that we would never find out who murdered Harriet's brother, and that one was either along for the ride or not. Anyway, I found the writing pretty stellar--there is one passage in particular that I'll have to find so I can quote it verbatim that so captures a summer evening, especially a child's summer evening--whew! Oh, and as an aside, in the latest Poets and Writers, various reviewers are asked something like do they consider how what they write will affect authors, and Laura Miller is quoted as, "I never think about writers" which one can only hope was meant as tongue-in-cheek [gulp]. Sara
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 08:04 AM This one's on the list for my in-person reading group. I wonder how all the lack of resolution will fly--not well, I suppose. It will be an interesting book to discuss in person. I thought Allison was going to dredge some dark secret out of her memory, too, Ruth. She kept having that dream. So many clues, so few answers. Sherry
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 03:27 PM Well Marty, there is a lot you didn't like here, wasn't there? The time period: Although I can't say exactly what year it was, I had the feeling I could have found out with just a little bother. There were tv shows mentioned, songs on the radio, stuff like that. Not knowing precisely which summer it was didn't bother me much. Harriet as "bratty": This feeling had to come from Harriet's treatment of Hely and her behavior toward her mother, neither of which was particularly surprising or unusual to me. Especially given that Edie was such a big influence on her. As to knowing more about Allison, just how much can be said about someone who sleeps most of the time, doesn't have friends, and never goes anywhere? Allison may know something about what happened when Robin died, but Tartt can't let Harriet find out, or it could put her off the track of Danny, and their encounters were the point of the book, I guess. Danny was a sad character! Harriet and Danny both had the bad luck of being born into the wrong family. I never thought of Harriet as compared to Sherlock Holmes, even though she was familiar with him.I just compared her to Harriet the Spy-- although she didn't seem to read that! She spied, and she had a little notebook. And she was a kid. All flash and no substance? I'd have said the comments here are more like too much unfocussed, dead-end substance. Substance which isn't in support of Harriet's story. >>"There's a lot to like about the book, but I have the feeling it's not finished. It's either too short or too long. And it's not paced well." Agree, except it not too short or too long. It is just too long. Maybe because I expected from the start that I'd never know who killed Robin? Tonya
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 11:57 PM It took me several chapters to get hooked into this one, despite some virtuoso writing, but Tartt has now grabbed me by the collar and I hope to be making up for lost reading time in the coming week or two. Sara, I think your comment hits the book's style right on the money: one is either along for the ride or not. I'm glad I finally got on the train.{G} One random thought, so far: I tend to admire literary risk-takers, and Tartt is taking a big risk here with this novel's oddball structure, or lack thereof. Even though it's not linear and resolved, it's not random either...some strange shape in between. In fact, it seems to operate almost in reverse to the norm...usually, a writer hooks us with a story as a means of getting us caught up in a fictional reality; here, we're hooked by the completeness of the fictional reality and get caught up waiting for a story. Some wonderful and darkly funny set-pieces here, about family life. My hat's off to whoever nominated this one. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 07:51 AM That's really an interesting way of looking at it, Dale. We want to find the reality behind the story. That we never find the whole reality is rather like life. I do wonder why Tartt left so many clues, though. There must have been a purpose behind it; I can't believe she just forgot about them. Sherry
From: Tonya Presley t-pr@comcast.net Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 09:08 AM Dale, It was like that for me too. I was near the half-way mark before I got an obsession to finish the book. Sounded like others here were caught up in it more quickly than you and I. Funny you say "several chapters" though; it seemed unusual that a 555 page book had 7 chapters! That worked to keep me reading, I think. Sherry, I wonder if Tartt tossed out those strange, random clues to make it seem more realistic? Aren't they the kind of things police hear, more than half of which have nothing to do with the solution to a crime? She gave us one important clue (that the cable he was hanged by was rare or unusual), tossed us one little thread of hope (that Allison saw something) and then left a scattering of dead-end clues. Tonya
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 11:08 AM One of the oft-quoted "rules" of writing is that if you show a gun in the desk drawer, you'd better use it before the end of the book. Tartt sure broke that one, didn't she? Maybe she was just having fun. R
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 11:44 AM I think you're onto something, Ruth. As I read this, I get the feeling that Tartt is purposely frustrating the traditional expectations of the mystery genre. It requires...well, the most accurate figure of speech is one that applies literally only to male authors.{G} >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Sara Chamberlin serafinawrites@msn.com Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 08:49 PM I'm going to throw out a possibility, and I already know the objections: many things--murders, disappearances, divorces, illnesses--are not resolved in life, and I suspect that Tartt may have been throwing that proverbial wrench into the mix. Now, yes, I know there are writing "rules" (and I'll never forget a book in which a wife picks up something her increasingly distant husband has been obsessively writing, and whaddya know, it's in Spanish, so neither she nor the audience get to read it--how very convenient--made me mad!) but I also think that The Little Friend cannot be classified--it's a coming of age, it's Southern Gothic, it's a murder mystery. No, I don't think Tartt either forgot her clues or put them in haphazardly--I think that's the way it happens sometimes. A bunch of disparate things are known, but cannot be stitched together to make a universal whole. For instance, a long disturbed man makes a phone call to his brother on a Monday night and then doesn't answer his door on Wednesday night when the brother comes by, and on Friday is found dead of a prescription drug overdose. The dead brother has made many suicidal gestures in the past--so, did he intend to kill himself? Was he already dead on Wednesday? Should the other brother carry guilt? These are unanswerable questions, and I know the clues backwards and forwards--draw your own conclusions as to why. But back to the book--for me, sometimes it is a "good" book for me exactly because it stirs up a lot of stuff that may or may not have to do directly with what the author wrote. What really matters to me is that Tartt persuaded me to step into her world (or jump on her express train bound for who-knows-where) and I willingly believed what happened there. In another setting, by another writer, I never, ever would buy the whole snake scene--I'd be yelling, "Oh, come on!" But this time, I confess, I was Donna's sucker. And pleased to be. Sara
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 07:33 AM Great note, Sara. I was her sucker, too, but I would have really appreciated some resolution. Sherry
From: Marty Priola mpriola@midsouth.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 01:45 PM To my previous post, I should add: I don't mind that Tartt doesn't tell us how the story resolved itself. That's a neat trick, leaving everyone hanging. Not just the brother — everyone. I have some recollection, though, of a comment that was made by either Ernest Hemingway or Alfred Hitchcock, but I don't recall which one of them said it. The essence of it, though, is that it's okay for the writer not to tell you who killed the victim, but...the writer had better know. I'm not sure Tartt knew. —idjp
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 02:00 PM I knew I was in for an eventful ride when I hit this paragraph, fairly early on: Unlike Allison--whom other children accepted vaguely, without quite knowing why--Harriet was a bossy little girl, not particularly liked. The friends she did have were not lukewarm or casual, like Allison's. They were mostly boys, mostly younger than herself, and fanatically devoted, riding their bicycles halfway across town after school to see her. She made them play Crusades, and Joan of Arc; she made them dress up in sheets and act out pageantry from the New Testament, in which she herself took the role of Jesus. The Last Supper was her favorite. Sitting all on one side of the picnic table, a la Leonardo, under the muscadine-draped pergola in Harriet's back yard, they all waited eagerly for the moment when--after dispensing a Last Supper of Ritz crackers and grape Fanta--she would look around the table at them, fixing and holding each boy, for a matter of seconds, with her cold gaze. "And yet one of you," she would say, with a calm that thrilled them, "one of you here tonight will betray me." *** Goshamighty, but this woman can write. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 10:04 PM For the wonderful characters: Gum, Farish Ratliff, Roy Dial and Loyal Reese, I can forgive Donna Tartt a number of loose ends and wordy asides. For her portrayal of Baptist camp, I have fantasies that Ms Tartt and I could become good friends. She has bursts of writing brilliance, but as a whole the novel didn’t hold up to its early promise. I do feel let down that the murder is unresolved, except that I get the feeling Tartt is suggesting that Pemberton did it, by ending the book with him. I had thought Pemberton did it for the last half of the book, so maybe I’m just falling into my own conclusion. Scenes I loved: life at the Ratliff’s compound; the snake scene with Harriett and Hely at the new development; Baptist camp; the pool hall; the elderly sisters on their road trip. A scene I didn’t like: Harriet wrenching the red gloves off of Lasharon Odum’s hands. I agree with Dean that there is irony in the struggle between Danny and Harriett. Who’s the good guy? The title seemed to be referring to Danny Ratliff until the end when I thought it shifted to Pemberton, the other little friend who was the murderer. Maybe. Robt
From: Marty Priola mpriola@midsouth.rr.com Date: Friday, September 19, 2003 01:08 AM I saw Donna Tartt here in Memphis when the book was released. She came here for a signing. I went, and I'm glad I did. She read the new subdivision with snakes scene — and hearing her read that in person did add a lot. Dale: That passage you quoted was one of my favorite passages in the whole book. My favorites, however, tended to be those about Ida Rhew. Donna Tartt's no slouch at all — and I've known people like most everybody in this book. I especially enjoyed the prologue and the paragraphs that end the chapter where Ida Rhew leaves, the couple paragraphs that begin with the narrator's observation that later Harriet would think of that day as the beginning of her misery. I'm quite conflicted about The Little Friend; it's admirable and sometimes downright moving and almost spookily observant. But, with these characters and these places, I wanted more. —idjp
From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Saturday, September 20, 2003 01:00 AM Ruth, I have been skimmin g this thread till finished my reading and re-reading...but I notice your post about the gun.... Chekov. If theres a gun in the first act, it has to go off by the end of the play. More in a bit...I have really liked trying to catch up on this topic...so many impressions and thoughts... later, Candy
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, September 20, 2003 08:39 PM Candy -- you won't be the last one to check in here I don't think -- I'm closing in on the end of this one and will speak to the posts once I've finished and read the notes through. All quibbles aside -- Tartt can certainly grab hold of the reader. I picked up and read The Secret History in Belgie when this one was first mentioned as a possibility for the RL books and must say I loved that one and am glad to hear it's being turned into a film -- if only it is done to the standard of the book, of course. Like you -- I'll be back later. Dottie -- ID at large -- or on the loose -- whatever!?!?
From: Peggy Ramsey ashputtle@comcast.com Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 05:14 AM Well, at least I'm not the only one who felt compelled to stay up too late and finish this -- 4:58am by the clock on my start bar. I'm glad to see I'm also not the only one who took a while to get into it -- I kept telling myself "where's the story, this isn't interesting, there are so many other books waiting in the TBR pile...." and then I'm on page 255 and I can't put the thing down. The characterization was what I liked best --it seemed like every one of them was flesh and blood. I can't recall reading book where the people were so real. When Roy Dial turned up on Edie's doorstep the morning after the car accident, I wanted to reach right through the pages and slap him. I also marvelled at Tartt's ability to make me feel sorry for Danny -- I was glad when I found out he didn't kill Robin, and later horrified when it appeared as if Harriet had killed him. What touched me best though was the relationship between Harriet and Hely. While my friends and I never had adventures quite as huge as these, I vividly remember day-long explorations and investigations, creating theories on where that old rusted tank came from, or what killed the deer we found floating on the far side of the lake. We even had thuggy kids we hid from, but my mother had installed sufficient fear in me that we never came close enough to interact with them. I was disappointed that we didn't find out who the murderer was, but not surprised. And I sincerely hope those poor little girls didn't wind up moving to Nashville with the icky father. Peggy Resident Peasant
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 06:44 AM The time setting: mid to late seventies, I think. I’m listening to Donna Tartt read an abridged version of THE LITTLE FRIEND on audio CD. I just wanted to hear her voice but now I’m hooked again. Tartt has a pleasant voice with a hint of a southern accent. I wonder if she adopted a “generic” accent with her original accent bleeding through. (What does one call the accent that is generally used in broadcast media?) There are instances where Harriet has seizure-like episodes, such as when she’s reading THE JUNGLE BOOK at home and when she passes out at the new development from chasing snakes with Hely. At first I thought these were sort of arty, existential riffs, but now I think they’re descriptions of what it’s like to experience seizures. This novel still has me captivated. I agree with Peggy that the characterization is the most appealing element in the book. The novel’s flaws are shrinking and its strengths are growing in my perception. Listening to the abridged CD, I prefer the unabridged details. Go figure. I like the way Tartt refuses to idealize her protagonist. Harriet intends to murder. She feels justified, but her assumptions are wrong. Both Harriet and Danny have familial wounds that fuel their criminal behavior. This discussion has helped me get a better handle on the novel. Robt
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 07:18 PM I finally have had time to read all of your posts. I absolutely loved this book, and I loved Harriet. She was a fierce little girl, and I saw a bit of me in her. I think that I was a fierce little girl because we moved around so much. Harriet was a fierce little girl because she had been abandoned by her mother. I know that her mother was in the house, but she did abandon her children. Harriet's two mother figures were there for her only sometimes, and they both left in the same week. That part of the book just broke my heart. Tonya and I talked about the significance of the title when we were in San Diego. We both thought that Danny was Robin's little friend, but I was wondering if Harriet didn't become Danny's little friend in a strange sort of way. Whenever he looked up, there was that strange little girl. I never thought of this as a murder mystery. It was the murder that caused the mother to go into her shell. I have a good friend whose brother died at the age of 15. My friend was 14 at the time, and she had three other living siblings that were close in age. She said that her mother disappeared into her bedroom for a year. She finally came out of her catatonic state when she realized that she had four living children that needed her. I thought about my friend when I read this book, and I am going to lend the book to her when we finish this discussion. Jane
From: Cara Randall carrotbean@yahoo.com Date: Monday, September 22, 2003 12:29 AM it took me a while to get a chance to read all these comments...wow. it's nice to have plenty of disagreement to talk about. i read this a year or so ago, and i didn't get a chance to reread it (school!), so i can't quote any of my favorite passages from memory... but i have to say that every time i think of this book i still feel summer. there's something about the construction of tartt's settings that are permanent. it is, as a few people have said, as if all those characters are continuing on in that world, but we just can't get back in. i also have to agree with marty (i think?) that harriet was a brat. she was awful! but that made her an even more compelling protagonist, although not hero. i tend to disagree (with dean?) that tartt set her up as the moral hero. nor do i think danny was all that bad. in fact, none of the other characters were really as bad or mean-spirited as Harriet when it comes down to it. as readers we were tied to her throughout the tale, seeing everything through her perspective mostly, but she's the least honorable or respectable of the characters. that is a daring feat on the part of the author. i think another reason i like this book so much is precisely because it cannot be easily categorized. i think donna tartt is very well versed in the "rules" of writing and knowingly defies them to create the kind of book that's almost impossible to find anymore.
From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 11:08 AM One of the oft-quoted "rules" of writing is that if you show a gun in the desk drawer, you'd better use it before the end of the book. Tartt sure broke that one, didn't she? Maybe she was just having fun. R
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 11:44 AM I think you're onto something, Ruth. As I read this, I get the feeling that Tartt is purposefully frustrating the traditional expectations of the mystery genre. It requires...well, the most accurate figure of speech is one that applies literally only to male authors.{G}
From: Sara Chamberlin serafinawrites@msn.com Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 08:49 PM I'm going to throw out a possibility, and I already know the objections: many things--murders, disappearances, divorces, illnesses--are not resolved in life, and I suspect that Tartt may have been throwing that proverbial wrench into the mix. Now, yes, I know there are writing "rules" (and I'll never forget a book in which a wife picks up something her increasingly distant husband has been obsessively writing, and whaddya know, it's in Spanish, so neither she nor the audience get to read it--how very convenient--made me mad!) but I also think that The Little Friend cannot be classified--it's a coming of age, it's Southern Gothic, it's a murder mystery. No, I don't think Tartt either forgot her clues or put them in haphazardly--I think that's the way it happens sometimes. A bunch of disparate things are known, but cannot be stitched together to make a universal whole. For instance, a long disturbed man makes a phone call to his brother on a Monday night and then doesn't answer his door on Wednesday night when the brother comes by, and on Friday is found dead of a prescription drug overdose. The dead brother has made many suicidal gestures in the past--so, did he intend to kill himself? Was he already dead on Wednesday? Should the other brother carry guilt? These are unanswerable questions, and I know the clues backwards and forwards--draw your own conclusions as to why. But back to the book--for me, sometimes it is a "good" book for me exactly because it stirs up a lot of stuff that may or may not have to do directly with what the author wrote. What really matters to me is that Tartt persuaded me to step into her world (or jump on her express train bound for who-knows-where) and I willingly believed what happened there. In another setting, by another writer, I never, ever would buy the whole snake scene--I'd be yelling, "Oh, come on!" But this time, I confess, I was Donna's sucker. And pleased to be. Sara
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 07:33 AM Great note, Sara. I was her sucker, too, but I would have really appreciated some resolution. Sherry
From: Marty Priola mpriola@midsouth.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 01:45 PM To my previous post, I should add: I don't mind that Tartt doesn't tell us how the story resolved itself. That's a neat trick, leaving everyone hanging. Not just the brother — everyone. I have some recollection, though, of a comment that was made by either Ernest Hemingway or Alfred Hitchcock, but I don't recall which one of them said it. The essence of it, though, is that it's okay for the writer not to tell you who killed the victim, but...the writer had better know. I'm not sure Tartt knew. —idjp
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 02:00 PM I knew I was in for an eventful ride when I hit this paragraph, fairly early on: Unlike Allison--whom other children accepted vaguely, without quite knowing why--Harriet was a bossy little girl, not particularly liked. The friends she did have were not lukewarm or casual, like Allison's. They were mostly boys, mostly younger than herself, and fanatically devoted, riding their bicycles halfway across town after school to see her. She made them play Crusades, and Joan of Arc; she made them dress up in sheets and act out pageantry from the New Testament, in which she herself took the role of Jesus. The Last Supper was her favorite. Sitting all on one side of the picnic table, a la Leonardo, under the muscadine-draped pergola in Harriet's back yard, they all waited eagerly for the moment when--after dispensing a Last Supper of Ritz crackers and grape Fanta--she would look around the table at them, fixing and holding each boy, for a matter of seconds, with her cold gaze. "And yet one of you," she would say, with a calm that thrilled them, "one of you here tonight will betray me." *** Goshamighty, but this woman can write. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003 10:04 PM For the wonderful characters: Gum, Farish Ratliff, Roy Dial and Loyal Reese, I can forgive Donna Tartt a number of loose ends and wordy asides. For her portrayal of Baptist camp, I have fantasies that Ms Tartt and I could become good friends. She has bursts of writing brilliance, but as a whole the novel didn’t hold up to its early promise. I do feel let down that the murder is unresolved, except that I get the feeling Tartt is suggesting that Pemberton did it, by ending the book with him. I had thought Pemberton did it for the last half of the book, so maybe I’m just falling into my own conclusion. Scenes I loved: life at the Ratliff’s compound; the snake scene with Harriett and Hely at the new development; Baptist camp; the pool hall; the elderly sisters on their road trip. A scene I didn’t like: Harriet wrenching the red gloves off of Lasharon Odum’s hands. I agree with Dean that there is irony in the struggle between Danny and Harriett. Who’s the good guy? The title seemed to be referring to Danny Ratliff until the end when I thought it shifted to Pemberton, the other little friend who was the murderer. Maybe. Robt
From: Marty Priola mpriola@midsouth.rr.com Date: Friday, September 19, 2003 01:08 AM I saw Donna Tartt here in Memphis when the book was released. She came here for a signing. I went, and I'm glad I did. She read the new subdivision with snakes scene — and hearing her read that in person did add a lot. Dale: That passage you quoted was one of my favorite passages in the whole book. My favorites, however, tended to be those about Ida Rhew. Donna Tartt's no slouch at all — and I've known people like most everybody in this book. I especially enjoyed the prologue and the paragraphs that end the chapter where Ida Rhew leaves, the couple paragraphs that begin with the narrator's observation that later Harriet would think of that day as the beginning of her misery. I'm quite conflicted about The Little Friend; it's admirable and sometimes downright moving and almost spookily observant. But, with these characters and these places, I wanted more. —idjp
From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Saturday, September 20, 2003 01:00 AM Ruth, I have been skimmin g this thread till finished my reading and re-reading...but I notice your post about the gun.... Chekov. If theres a gun in the first act, it has to go off by the end of the play. More in a bit...I have really liked trying to catch up on this topic...so many impressions and thoughts... later, Candy
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, September 20, 2003 08:39 PM Candy -- you won't be the last one to check in here I don't think -- I'm closing in on the end of this one and will speak to the posts once I've finished and read the notes through. All quibbles aside -- Tartt can certainly grab hold of the reader. I picked up and read The Secret History in Belgie when this one was first mentioned as a possibility for the RL books and must say I loved that one and am glad to hear it's being turned into a film -- if only it is done to the standard of the book, of course. Like you -- I'll be back later. Dottie -- ID at large -- or on the loose -- whatever!?!?
From: Peggy Ramsey ashputtle@comcast.com Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 05:14 AM Well, at least I'm not the only one who felt compelled to stay up too late and finish this -- 4:58am by the clock on my start bar. I'm glad to see I'm also not the only one who took a while to get into it -- I kept telling myself "where's the story, this isn't interesting, there are so many other books waiting in the TBR pile...." and then I'm on page 255 and I can't put the thing down. The characterization was what I liked best --it seemed like every one of them was flesh and blood. I can't recall reading book where the people were so real. When Roy Dial turned up on Edie's doorstep the morning after the car accident, I wanted to reach right through the pages and slap him. I also marvelled at Tartt's ability to make me feel sorry for Danny -- I was glad when I found out he didn't kill Robin, and later horrified when it appeared as if Harriet had killed him. What touched me best though was the relationship between Harriet and Hely. While my friends and I never had adventures quite as huge as these, I vividly remember day-long explorations and investigations, creating theories on where that old rusted tank came from, or what killed the deer we found floating on the far side of the lake. We even had thuggy kids we hid from, but my mother had installed sufficient fear in me that we never came close enough to interact with them. I was disappointed that we didn't find out who the murderer was, but not surprised. And I sincerely hope those poor little girls didn't wind up moving to Nashville with the icky father. Peggy Resident Peasant
From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 06:44 AM The time setting: mid to late seventies, I think. I’m listening to Donna Tartt read an abridged version of THE LITTLE FRIEND on audio CD. I just wanted to hear her voice but now I’m hooked again. Tartt has a pleasant voice with a hint of a southern accent. I wonder if she adopted a “generic” accent with her original accent bleeding through. (What does one call the accent that is generally used in broadcast media?) There are instances where Harriet has seizure-like episodes, such as when she’s reading THE JUNGLE BOOK at home and when she passes out at the new development from chasing snakes with Hely. At first I thought these were sort of arty, existential riffs, but now I think they’re descriptions of what it’s like to experience seizures. This novel still has me captivated. I agree with Peggy that the characterization is the most appealing element in the book. The novel’s flaws are shrinking and it’s strengths are growing in my perception. Listening to the abridged CD, I prefer the unabridged details. Go figure. I like the way Tartt refuses to idealize her protagonist. Harriet intends to murder. She feels justified, but her assumptions are wrong. Both Harriet and Danny have familial wounds that fuel their criminal behavior. This discussion has helped me get a better handle on the novel. Robt
From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, September 21, 2003 07:18 PM I finally have had time to read all of your posts. I absolutely loved this book, and I loved Harriet. She was a fierce little girl, and I saw a bit of me in her. I think that I was a fierce little girl because we moved around so much. Harriet was a fierce little girl because she had been abandoned by her mother. I know that her mother was in the house, but she did abandon her children. Harriet's two mother figures were there for her only sometimes, and they both left in the same week. That part of the book just broke my heart. Tonya and I talked about the significance of the title when we were in San Diego. We both thought that Danny was Robin's little friend, but I was wondering if Harriet didn't become Danny's little friend in a strange sort of way. Whenever he looked up, there was that strange little girl. I never thought of this as a murder mystery. It was the murder that caused the mother to go into her shell. I have a good friend whose brother died at the age of 15. My friend was 14 at the time, and she had three other living siblings that were close in age. She said that her mother disappeared into her bedroom for a year. She finally came out of her catatonic state when she realized that she had four living children that needed her. I thought about my friend when I read this book, and I am going to lend the book to her when we finish this discussion. Jane
From: Cara Randall carrotbean@yahoo.com Date: Monday, September 22, 2003 12:29 AM it took me a while to get a chance to read all these comments...wow. it's nice to have plenty of disagreement to talk about. i read this a year or so ago, and i didn't get a chance to reread it (school!), so i can't quote any of my favorite passages from memory... but i have to say that every time i think of this book i still feel summer. there's something about the construction of tartt's settings that are permanent. it is, as a few people have said, as if all those characters are continuing on in that world, but we just can't get back in. i also have to agree with marty (i think?) that harriet was a brat. she was awful! but that made her an even more compelling protagonist, although not hero. i tend to disagree (with dean?) that tartt set her up as the moral hero. nor do i think danny was all that bad. in fact, none of the other characters were really as bad or mean-spirited as Harriet when it comes down to it. as readers we were tied to her throughout the tale, seeing everything through her perspective mostly, but she's the least honorable or respectable of the characters. that is a daring feat on the part of the author. i think another reason i like this book so much is precisely because it cannot be easily categorized. i think donna tartt is very well versed in the "rules" of writing and knowingly defies them to create the kind of book that's almost impossible to find anymore.
From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Friday, September 26, 2003 01:42 PM I'm still trying to make my way through the last couple of chapters. I reacted to this book differently from many people here: I dove into it and was enthralled initially, but about 2/3 of the way through, I lost steam. The characters are wonderfully real, but on the whole are not people I would want to be with, I guess. Cara, I agree with everything you said about Harriet. (And about Danny--he seems more pathetic than evil to me.) At the same time, my heart aches for Harriet because she is so abandoned. And her grandmother and those sisters of hers! None of them can really be bothered with these 2 lost children. That really disturbs me. The mother has something of an excuse, but I think these older ladies are a bit selfish. On the whole, they must all be missing the "rise to the occasion" gene. Maybe the older women just don't remember what it is like to be young and vulnerable. (I think Edie is my least favorite character.) Anyway, I'm hoping to finish in the next couple of days although I gather from the posts that the end is not much of an end. (OK, I cheated, and that may have diminished my enthusiasm for the book somewhat.) Mary Ellen
From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, September 26, 2003 06:23 PM Mary Ellen: I love your analysis of the aunts... I think these older ladies are a bit selfish. On the whole, they must all be missing the "rise to the occasion" gene. Ain't it the truth. The circumstances make Harriet a fighter, but they take a toll on her emotionally. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Saturday, September 27, 2003 07:54 AM I didn't have that feeling about the aunts at all. Edie made breakfast for Harriet every morning and drove her lots of places. Sure she was grumpy, but I got the feeling she, too, was devastated by Robin's death, and she dealt with it by being hard. The older one (who died) seemed very nice to Harriet and was a respite for her. The aunts were not young and they didn't have many resources. The one I disliked the most was Harriet's father. He DID have the resources and just abandoned everything. The aunts tried to muddle through. Sherry
From: Sara Chamberlin serafinawrites@msn.com Date: Saturday, September 27, 2003 01:46 PM I really liked the aunts, as well, Sherry. The mother irked me, although her depression was explicable--the father was without honor, I thought. Sara
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 12:39 AM Well since my earlier note disappeared in the recent crash -- I can now change the report to -- "finished this one today" -- and despite all the quibbles and bumps -- I enjoyed the overall ride just fine. Just a huge adventure in the life of Harriet -- and lots of questions raised as to what happens next within her large and sprawling family of quirky characters. And can she keep Hely's mouth shut in the long run? We'll never know -- but what a cast of characters we have to mull over in days to come -- and I'm sure they will pop into one's mind from time to time like the proverbial bad pennies that many of them are and were. Dottie -- ID at large -- who also finished Anne (with or without an e? I've still not checked) Lamott's Traveling Mercies this week

 

 
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