There is a reason this book has topped the New York Best Seller list for months. I got it for my Kindle so I can say I am 95% done. My librarian friend Julie finds this funny. Usually people say they are on page 250, but the Kindle does not indicate the page. I only knew it was a BIG book, recommended by my friend Elizabeth Martinez.
The narrator is looking back on his life, starting with life with his mother in a modest apartment in New York. She loves Art History. He is in Middle School, getting into trouble. They visit an art museum on the way to a disciplinary meeting at his school. Two bombs explode and this event totally changes the course of his life. The description of the bombing, his feelings and experiences are gripping. The images will stay with me for a long time.
He removes a small painting from the 1600’s of a goldfinch chained to a perch. He likes the painting but in the confusion and death after the bombing, he is shell shocked, picking up anything perhaps useful — a shopping bag, a water bottle.
Having lost both my parents, the description of his fear of CPS, his feelings about whether his mother’s death was his fault, the decision to finally send him to Las Vegas with his father, all hit me hard emotionally. His experiences shut him off emotionally, except for his obsession with a red-haired girl he meets in the museum just before the bombing.
He makes friends with Boris, a rather eccentric Russian boy who has lived all over the world with his mining engineer father. The boys are largely left to their own devices by their respective fathers so have all sorts of adventures, including experimentation on a grand scale with drugs and alcohol. Many of us can probably relate from our own teen years (well, ok, a little bit anyway). Sometimes I have to wonder how most of us survived and became productive adults after all the things we did that could have killed us.
These are not just average kids. They have smarts, survival skills, and some luck. They read Dostoevsky, Proust and other classical authors whom they discuss.
When the narrator’s alcoholic gambler father dies in a car crash, he makes his way back to New York on a series of Greyhound buses with his dog and the painting. He ends up living with Hobie, a furniture maker and restorer, working in the antique shop upstairs in the Village.
Eventually the story shifts to a chase after the painting through Europe, every bit as engaging as Brown’s Angels and Demons, but better written (in my opinion). Through the hours on the Kindle, I have hardly been able to put it down. I will update my post after I finish reading it.