this review refers to the audiobook version.
i wish i could say i liked this book better. the writer clearly has some serious chops, the story is engaging, and she aimed high, which i can always appreciate.
but may i say two things? lists, and new york.
lists do not equate to good scene-setting. there are endless lists in this book–everything from grocery lists to brushstroke lists, and after a few thousand of them, they get really, really boring. when you’re listening, you can’t skim, which is what i suspect i would have done for a lot of this book if i’d encountered it in print.
two, listen up, new york! you are not nearly as fascinating to the rest of the world as you are to yourself. of course a city can be as much a character as a prairie or a desert, but i don’t really need to know every last bit of your bellybutton lint or your filthy alleyways or your take-out food.
part of this book takes place in las vegas, for example, and there are only two bits of vegas you take away from this book: hard hot sunlight and sand. this is a complete failure of observation–desert life takes some coaxing to reveal itself, but a desert is most emphatically not empty, and that environ is just as worthy of exploration as any corner of new york. yet we are deluged with minutiae about new york, and basically given a flyover tour of vegas.
that aside, the one thing that really saves this book from a lot of tedium and overdrugged vomiting is Boris. Boris is a great, great character, fizzing with life and energy and a perverse sort of joie de vivre that our protag utterly lacks. every time i was just about ready to give up on this book despite him, he would come back into the book and make it worth reading again.
the third character in this book is really Art with a capital A. how much Art squee one can handle varies rather wildly. for my taste, if you are not an artist but would like to see how an artist views the world, you’re much better off reading The Horse’s Mouth, which generally has a lot less vomiting and self-pity, and puts you in the artist’s skull with much greater skill. Goldfinch tries from time to time, but it didn’t work for me.
a lot of self-indulgence in this book, from the endless irritating lists to the new york snobbery to the fairly whiny and unappealing protag to even a long soliloquy addressing you, the reader, and telling you what you should have got out of the book if you haven’t by now. if this book didn’t have Boris… i would never have made it through. but i can’t say even Boris would make me want to recommend it wholeheartedly.
P.S. added much much later: plus, this from Salon