The Writing Allstars – Donna Tartt

The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone. (D. Tartt)

I’ve been dreading this post for weeks. How to put into words the feelings I have for this author, for her first brilliant novel, the book I re-read each year. It came to me on a whim, slipped into my hand on a dark stage by my English professor with the assurance that I would love it. And I did. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this novel has made a lasting impact on me, that it has changed the way I see everything, that it swept me off my feet and, in an instant, became my all time favorite book. It isn’t about the story (though that in itself is amazing) it’s more the author’s ability to subject the reader to the full range of human emotions through characters with whom, at first, you connect to body and soul. You don’t just read about Camilla and Charles, Richard and Henry, Bunny and Julian. You become them. You feel what they feel, speak as they speak, act as they act and in that one pivotal moment, you must despise yourself. Tartt takes what you think you know of yourself, turns it on its head, and all you can do is go along for the ride.

I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell. (The Secret History)

Beauty. The thread that runs through each of Tartt’s novels, the thread that catches us up, tangles us in her fictions, holds us hostage, is the pursuit of the beautiful. She reminds us of our rabid desire, our insatiable need for beauty and its aching lack in our lives. It is those stolen moments in the midst of the bustle, glances, whispers, colors, moving just out of sight, in our peripheral vision, stealing into our soul and reminding it to breathe. Tartt faces down sense and time and duty and erases their shadows from the face of our souls. She brings back the feelings of hope and desire and adventure. Though her stories may take us down a different path, to outcomes dark and dangerous, she manages still to awaken our spirits and allow them to feed deeply at the well of beauty.

Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? (The Goldfinch)

Crafting these feelings that seem to transcend the actual story took Tartt years, for each novel. Every time her stories were met with awe and enthusiasm and every time it seemed that book would be the last. Six years later, another masterpiece would make its way into the world, into the waiting hands of her readers. Tartt taught me that good things are worth waiting for; worth working and reworking. She stands in opposition to the quick drafts, the one edits, the scramble for publication. She speaks to my fears and assures me it’s better to get it right, no matter how long it takes. It’s better to craft a masterpiece.

Not quite what one expected, but once it happened one realized it couldn’t be any other way. (The Secret History)

Because of Donna Tartt I realized that a dark and haunting story can still be full of beauty and redemption. Because of Tartt I learned that what seems to be a flaw can hide our deepest strengths. Because of her I returned to Poe and Dickens. Because of Donna Tartt I am the writer I am today.





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