31 January 2014


Just before Christmas, my younger cousin, Rebecca, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s healthy and energetic, and she has a perfect, beautiful 16-month old little boy, Charlie. Rebecca and I probably weren’t the closest as children; her brother Rob and I are the same age, so our interests were typically more aligned. Rebecca is two years younger than Rob and I, and even though that age difference is practically non-existent now, it seemed more significant then. We became much closer during college though, so much so that our Grandmama spoke often about how happy it made her for us to be friends as well as cousins. We christened ourselves “cousin-friends," and well, I could never have imagined how meaningful and important that hybrid relationship would become, not only with Rebecca, but also with my other cousins with whom I am blessed to share friendships. Of course, I’m sure Grandmama knew; hence, her happiness.

Rebecca shares many traits with our Grandmama, and mostly, it’s the ones that I strive to emulate but never quite master: her reserved determination, her limitless kindness, and her ability to turn just about anything into a story. My most favorite memories of our college years are the times she cooked spaghetti (with Worcestershire sauce) and the time that we played Chinese fire drill in front of the Alabama Theater so that I could parallel park her car. These may not seem like major life events, but let me tell you, mention either of them to us, and I guarantee we’ll laugh… a lot.

Rebecca had a double mastectomy the day after Christmas, and just this week, she had her first of eight biweekly chemo treatments. I am in awe of her strength and positivity, though I suppose I am not really all that surprised by it. She’s always been the funny one, the sweet-spirited mischief maker, the little girl who always wanted to make people laugh and who grew up to become a young woman who always manages to find the good in everyone. Since her diagnosis, Rebecca has spoken frequently to acknowledge the power of prayer and to ask that her friends and family join in praying for her healing; she has repeatedly voiced her confidence in God’s ability to heal. She doesn't complain, and almost never mentions fear or worry, and to me, this has been perhaps her greatest testimony.

Ephesians Chapter 3 has been on my mind quite a bit lately. It was written by Paul while he was in prison, and during this time of struggle, Paul writes not about his physical suffering but instead about God’s righteousness and faithfulness. Isn’t that incredible?

I haven’t figured out God’s ultimate purpose in putting Rebecca through this awful ordeal — putting all of us through it — and it’s probably not for me to know or understand anyway. I am certain, however, that I have learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons about grace, gratefulness, faith, courage, and humility.

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

I love you, Becca.

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt's first novel, The Secret History, is one of my favorite books ever.  I've read it probably a dozen times, and as I type this, I realize that I am suddenly gripped by the urge to read it again.  I was sorely disappointed in her second attempt, The Little Friend, to the point where I didn't even finish reading it.  As such, I was somewhat guarded in my excitement leading up to the release of this, her third novel.

The Goldfinch is about the adolescence and early adulthood of a boy orphaned by an act of terrorism (I'm giving away some of the plot here, but not so much that it'll be any less devastating when you read it for yourself).  There are guardianship woes and frequent changes in setting, enough so that you don't get bored by the surroundings, so to speak.  His story becomes entwined with that of the title piece of artwork, and mayhem ensues.

On Goodreads, I rated it 3 stars, but as I said there (and the rest of this is taken directly from my Goodreads review), I think that if half stars could be awarded, I'd have rated this book 3.5, which is to say that it's very good but could have benefited from a more active editor.  There are pages upon pages upon pages that are so perfectly written that I want to read them again and again.  And then there are the last 100 pages, which I think could have been condensed into perhaps ten.

Tartt is gifted with description.  I felt the dampness and old money of New York just as vividly as I felt the glaring, blinding light and heat of Las Vegas.  I enjoy that that action is told from the perspective of someone whom we can't really trust because he has been, essentially, plastered since adolescence, first with grief, then culture shock, then drugs and alcohol.  I appreciate Tartt's indulgence of this perspective and that she's skilled at changing the facts just when I think I've grasped hold of them.

She's just as gifted with pacing and detail, self-indulgent allusions notwithstanding.  Tartt is well-read, exceedingly clever, and quite smart...and she really, really needs for her readers to know that, I think.  The novel is littered with quintessentially English exclamations like, "Well done, you!" and references to "tinned crabmeat" and "pyjamas," which reveal what I believe to be the author's embarrassment of or uneasiness with her Mississippi upbringing.  There were times when I wanted, truly, to throttle her and say, "Listen, Donna, we both know this isn't how Americans -- let alone Southerners -- speak or spell, regardless of their wealth, education, or social position."

More often, though, I felt a kinship borne primarily of our Southern-ness and apparently shared obsession with the BBC.  After all, how would I know that Brits use "tinned" in place of our more colloquial "canned" if I didn't spend a great deal of time reading P.G. Wodehouse, watching "Fawlty Towers," and inhaling everything Julian Fellowes produces, both on screen and in print.

In short, this novel falls somewhere between The Secret History and The Little Friend, though considerably closer to the former than the latter.