You know who you are sitting there all Donna Tartt-like and knowing you've broken my heart. As a Writer, I am completely impressed by your abilities, but as a writer, well, I can only hate the fact that you are so good. Of course, I am talking about The Goldfinch, which I downloaded after my dear daughter and her family presented me with a gift certificate for Christmas. I read the first chapter, out loud, to my wife last night and I just know she could tell by my trembling, nearly tearful voice that I was depressed. Not by the subject matter but by the sheer weight of my envy. I don't even know yet what the book's about, I only know that I've never before seen Amsterdam described in quite that way.
I now understand the angst someone like, say, Amy Adams must feel whenever she finds herself in a competitive category with the likes of, say, Meryl Streep. I've talked to myself in the way Ms. Adams must talk to herself during these times because there is always someone like Meryl Streep for Amy, and a Donna Tartt to burst the completely imaginary literary bubble I have so fastidiously fashioned for myself and which I apparently am prone to live inside of for most of my waking hours. Of course, where Donna Tartt is concerned , I didn't go to Harvard and I don't come from Mississippi, so she already has a head start on me in those credentials. I come from a small town in southwest Washington state, which lies close to other smallish towns with Native American names and deep histories of having been inundated during ancient Mt. St. Helens eruptions. Native American names like Humptulips. I've been there, by the way. And I hereby challenge Donna Tartt to either sadly admit that she's never been to a place called Humptulips, or to break my heart even further and tell the world now that Humptulips is a name she has already crossed off her bucket list.
And so the burden of such puerile envy falls on me. I'm sure Ms. Tartt is not losing much sleep over it. I guess I shouldn't worry too much. She publishes a novel about every ten years and by that time I will have written close to ten. Notice I said I will have written, not published. But we'll see. There is a silver lining to all this. For John Irving, at least. With the appearance of the latest Donna Tartt novel comes the good news that I can back off of my envy toward Mr. Irving, which is actually more of a pained adulation rather than an envy of any sort.
But, as you've probably guessed, it's all a kind of admiration for what these folks can do with the language. Folks like Tartt and Irving and Proulx. When I read The World According to Garp, I threw the paperback in the garbage on at least three different occasions, vowing never to pick it up again. But there I was, within the hour, brushing potato skins and eggshells off the cover and diving in once more. When I read The Shipping News, I threw every manuscript I was then working on into the garbage, vowing never again to sit down in front of a typewriter and attempt to rearrange letters in a sensible manner. It was simply not possible for me to have that kind of talent, the kind of breathtaking talent that these folks have.
So maybe this is a fan letter: Dear Donna, I love the first chapter of your book. Please tell me you didn't do this to me on purpose. After all, I did read The Secret History, and liked it. But I do request just one thing. Please don't sneak up on me like this. With such skill. With such concern. With such brilliance.
I am not even close to finishing The Goldfinch and already I can't wait for your next book to come out. Let's see, I'll be 73 by then, and perhaps a little more mature.