“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Full disclosure: I read about a quarter of this book. If you read my last post (also dated November 11) about “trigger warnings”, this will make sense.

What about “triggers” embedded in fiction? One criterion of good fiction is that we react to it “as if” if was real. I had trouble with this currently popular book. The second chapter recounts a bombing in a museum, followed by pages of agonizing description as the young protagonist awakens in a daze, watches a stranger die horribly, and wanders alone through the unstable building, terrified that he will find his mother among the dead.

I kept waiting for the next paragraph to say “And then I passed out and woke up in a hospital” or “Then a fireman led me to an ambulance” but the nightmare just went on and on. I started skipping from paragraph to paragraph, looking for relief. When my stomach started to hurt, I stopped reading. I was “triggered” by this description of waiting for help that did not come. Did Ms. Tartt owe me a warning? No… Maybe I should have read the Amazon reviews more carefully. Did she intend or expect me to close the book and walk away?

What next? I skipped a chapter and tried again. I still couldn’t deal with the book. Jumping to near the end, I read a chapter that gave a very, very detailed account of a suicide attempt. This author does not let the reader “off the hook” about anything. Her point seems to be that life is suffering. I may, in the future, decide to read The Goldfinch in full. Would Ms. Tartt be surprised to find herself in the company of Stephen King? I won’t read some of his books either.

I could add a list of fiction that caused me too much anxiety to read. Probably half a dozen books over many years. If you feel like sharing about a book that pushed your buttons, please leave a comment below.


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