Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Loving an Author You REALLY Disagree With

Last August, I posted a review (more of a reaction) to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt called "An Indian's Reaction to the Racism in 'The Goldfinch'."


And now, I'm on page 449 of 629 of The Secret History, her debut novel.

As my review made obvious, Tartt and I have a lot to disagree about. A lot. In that review, I also dismissed the idea that The Goldfinch deserved the Pulitzer. I'd like to slightly amend my views.

I still think The Goldfinch has many, many ethical problems. But see, that's the thing. They're ethical problems. The novel still has problems of craft and execution but in my furor over the ethical nature of the novel, I exaggerated the problems in craft. And, as I'll show later, I have no right to discredit a novel's artistic merit due to its ethics, simply because ethics are subjective.

Donna Tartt's novels are among the most ambitious novels I've ever read. The ambition and scope of the two novels of hers that I've read/almost-read are on par and even exceed many classics. For that alone, reading her work is a pleasure.

But then the prose. What gorgeous prose. I can read anything by her for the prose alone! It's in the top three best prose list I have in my head (I have lists for basically everything reading-related -- best plotting, characters, etc. I'm a maniac, seriously). Pairing the prose with the scope in her novels... it's a winning combination. I haven't read The Little Friend and I'm not sure I will because of its meh reviews; if I do read it, it'll be for the prose.

Yet, I still stand by what I said in my original reaction. Not as much in The Secret History (because of the Arab scene), but in The Goldfinch there is a definite nostalgic desire for pre-'diverse-loving' America(if that's what you can call the USA right now). A longing for an age where the great cultural contributions of whites reined supreme, not denigrated by modern 'diverse contributions'. A sympathy for those who want to go back to those days exists in that novel, very Gone With the Wind in nature. A desire for an age that erased people of color, pretended their hardships and suffering did not exist because all that mattered where white people and what their problems were. I don't know why, but I saw a lot more of that in The Goldfinch than The Secret History. I can guess what Tartt's true intentions are (I did so in my review), but that's unfair because I don't know her.

Yes, I disagree the ethical sentiment in The Goldfinch. Of course I disagree with that. But I still love Tartt. I tried denying it before, but she really is a tremendous author, one of my favorites (although I still don't think The Goldfinch deserved the Pulitzer - maybe it won  there was no better contestant? Because of the amazing prose and incredible scope of that novel - and that amazing opening scene?).

And that's the thing. If I meet Tartt, I'd squee and ask her to sign my book and everything. I'd love to sit down and have dinner together, just talk for hours and not aggressively at all, simply to see what she meant. And if she does have that nostalgic desire, great. It's not for me to get angry about. In fact, I think we'd have a much greater discussion than I'd have with any author I agreed with on every subject.

There's a tremendous pull to equate love with agreement and hate with disagreement. Disagreeing with someone doesn't require hate, nor does it exclude love. A person and their ideas are separate. Hating one doesn't require hating both.

It's a problem with a lot of social activism in the media. With 'don't reply to the trolls' quickly slipping into 'don't discuss a topic with anyone who disagrees with you', I fear we're going to fall into a predicament similar to the one of the construction workers pictured below.

There are generally two sides to social activism in the media: a conservative view and a liberal view. Discussions have been growing in number and in voice, but each side is getting louder and louder as they build their half of the bridge. We assume we're going to meet in the middle, finally join and understand what the other side is saying. But I truly fear we are simply talking past one another. I fear that soon, it'll be too late, and we'll keep talking and talking in this echo chamber until we look behind our shoulders and realize...dang. Those people we hoped to change, they walked right past us, talking and arguing in another echo chamber.

There's no point hating someone for their ideas. Yes, it's a really hard thing to do and I'm struggling really hard to do it. But it's important. If we don't join into one conversation, practically speaking, very little will get done. And an additional point, it might surprise people that (gasp!) maybe there's a pro-lifer too afraid to speak in the YA author section of Twitter. Instead of generating meaningful conversation around these topics, all that's happening is bullying and unintended censorship (down with writer self-censorship!). Engage the trolls! They speak things that the rest of the population thinks in silence.

This does not necessitate compromise in the same way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not and should not have compromised with Jim Crow; a wrong idea, no matter how popular, is still a wrong idea. But we do need to start talking together, or the bridge we're trying to build will be as bad and useless as the one above.

The good thing about constructing things, though? You can always tear things down and build again.


  1. We don't have to agree with them, but we shouldn't hate people for looking at the world differently than we do.

  2. Stands up and applauds! In my teens and twenties, I used to see so much discussion between people of differing views without hate and vitriol being thrown around. It doesn't seem to be like that anymore. People try to silence others of differing views through bullying and false accusations. That's one of the things I attempted to get across in my novel CASSIA. SC, as you recall, it was set in 1990 and explored the concept of choice, particularly with regards to sexuality. But instead of having one side vehemently proclaiming sexuality is a choice and another side vehemently proclaiming sexuality is pre-determined at birth, the characters show the complexities of birth, psychology, upbringing, philosophy, etc. that goes into all preferences and decisions.

    I'm ranting right now, but the point is dialogue and the art of discussions, compromise, and understanding must be explored because we're becoming polarized, not so much in race and other physical qualities, but in ideas. Discussions should never be shut down.

  3. Really thoughtful post -- I enjoyed and appreciated every word. I have to admit that I often have a hard time separating talent from opinion, and for that reason have steered clear of Tart.
    That said, I have taken very strong stands in support of politicians who are not sympathetic to my worldview when I feel they've done a good job for their constituents. For example, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) (now deceased) was once a member of the KKK.
    Since I'm 1/2 African American, his former allegiance is abhorrent to me. YET. He was the smartest parliamentarian our Senate has ever seen, and he used his vast knowledge of the rules to bring better roads and more services and utilities to under-served West Virginia than anyone else ever did. So did I like him personally? NO. Not until he mellowed out later in life.
    Did I admire his ability? Undoubtedly.
    I hope the parallel I'm trying to draw makes sense?
    I'm trying to say I agree with your sentiment!!
    And I also agree that our conversations about difficult topics would be more helpful and healing if we had more people being honest about what they really think.
    back to Byrd - when he was honest about his former racist affiliations, he was excoriated. But in that well-deserved pummeling he took, a valuable conversation took place -- and he evolved. Can't beat that!!
    Sorry this got so long!!