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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Summer 2014

Book Reviews Robert R. Kracke BOOK REVIEWS for the works of Donna Tartt Donna Tartt, age 50, is a writer who was born and raised in Mississippi. When she began a writing course at the University of Mississippi, famed author Willie Morris (former editor of Harper’s Magazine and best-selling author of several novels, (My Dog Skip)) was her professor of writing. After he read an example of her writing, he took her aside and, so the story goes, said to her, “You are quite simply a genius.” He then arranged for her to go to college on scholarship at Bennington in Vermont. While she was in college, she began writing and ultimately finished her first novel, The Secret History, about students at a college in Vermont. To put it simply, as Morris did, Donna Tartt is truly a genius. The Secret History has become an American classic, much the same as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It has gained international fame. The Secret History has been translated into 30 to 35 languages at last count and is obviously an international best seller. In her total literary career of 30+ years, Tartt has only written three novels. She comes out with a novel every 10 years and each one is about 500+ pages and while she can be verbose, she is also erudite and one of the best American writers this reviewer has read in many years. The Secret History is a story set in Vermont among sophisticated New England college students who, under the leadership of a Socratic-like student mystic, commit a crime viz. the murder of one of their fellow students. Donna Tartt, The Secret History Random House, Inc., NY 1992 (559 pgs. ) The Little Friend Alfred A. Knopf, 2002 (555 pgs.) however, begins the novel with the murder, which is unusual, and the remainder of the story concerns how these students arrived at the point of the murder and how their thoughts and studies led them to commit such a crime masqueraded as a bacchanalian experience. When you read The Secret History, keep your Google or an encyclopedia nearby: you will need it for all of the many references to Greek classics, world religions, and national/international literature. This book is one of the best written, most challenging books with which this reviewer has come into contact in many years. Ms. Tartt’s next novel, The Little Friend, is also about a young person, a The Goldfinch Little Brown & Company 2013 (775 pgs.) 12-13 year old girl in Mississippi (obviously autobiographical) whose brother was found hanging from a tree in her back yard, with no explanation as to how and why the hanging took place. Nor does the small town in Mississippi ever resolve how it happened and who the person might be (if any) who might have committed this act. Was it a suicide or murder? The rest of this long novel concerns the young girl’s pursuit of who might have committed this crime and how she 16 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Summer 2014
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