Long View Note:
A Tartt Debate
13 June 2014

¶ At Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz considers the critical controversy occasioned by Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinchis it art, or just a good read? Our own view is that the question is radically premature, and that no one alive today will ever know the answer. Such questions take at least a century, or the passage of several sifting generations, to settle. For the time being, the fracas is merely “provocative.” Which is reason enough to read her piece.

In all the commentary that Peretz surveyed, one inanity stands out. We tremble at our disrespect, because it was Loren Stein, editor of The Paris Review, who uttered it.

Similarly, Stein, who struggles to keep strong literary voices alive and robust, sees a book like The Goldfinch standing in the way. “What worries me is that people who read only one or two books a year will plunk down their money for The Goldfinch, and read it, and tell themselves they like it, but deep down will be profoundly bored, because they aren’t children, and will quietly give up on the whole enterprise when, in fact, fiction—realistic fiction, old or new—is as alive and gripping as it’s ever been.”

Who the dickens — or even the Dickens — gives a damn about “people who read only one or two books a year”? They may shore up the publishers’ balances, but they have no place in discussions of literature.

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