by Wilma Mazo
If the winter doldrums have got you feeling dispirited, what you definitely need is a good book to distract you. Come on in to your Andes Public Library, and check out The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, if you like books set in the deep South with that characteristic Southern world view. I guarantee that you will immediately plunge into its plots and subplots and the lives of its most intricately drawn characters like a deep sea diver on a quest. I, for one, didn’t come up for air for three days!
Harriet Cleve Dufresnes is the main character in this third person narrative, and although she is just twelve and a half, this is hardly a book for young readers. In some respects it reminds me of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: the oppressive heat of a deep Southern summer, the elaborate description, the dreadful cruelty of poverty, and the fact that the children in both books lose their innocence in most horrible ways. But, that is where the similarity ends. The young characters in To Kill a Mockingbird have adults around them who guide them, shelter them from harm and love them with the very marrow of their bones.
Harriet, on the other hand, comes of age totally alone in a world where the adults are, at best, indifferent, lost in their own disappointments with life, and at worst drugged-out, delusional killers. In fact, Harriet has no intention of ever growing up. She sees adulthood as “a soft and inexplicable dwindling of character.” She believes that “Out of a clear blue sky the heroes and heroines abandoned their adventures for some dull sweetheart and got married and had families, and generally started acting like a bunch of cows.”
Harriet is not, and never was the cute, little tomboy that Scout Finch is. Yes, she is sensitive and caring, but her tender side never finds an outlet in her family of estranged parents, dreamy, wispy sister, poker-faced, ramrod straight grandmother, and twittering great aunts. She has a probing, curious mind; reads constantly; and is in search of a murderer, the murderer of her brother, Robin, who at the age of nine, was found hanged from a tree limb in the family’s yard during a Mother’s Day celebration. This tragic event, which took place ten years before, still colors every family gathering and has altered every member of the family. It is an event that leaves Harriet virtually parentless, as her mother retreats to her bedroom and her father retreats to another city and the arms of a more attentive woman. Since Harriet was only two when Robin died, she has no memories of him, but the focus of her life becomes revenge when she believes she has found the killer.
In their pursuit, she and her only friend, Hely, find themselves in the most frightful situations, and your heart will most assuredly thump at a more rapid pace when you follow them into these daring and very grow-up escapades. Read The Little Friend by Donna Tartt for your cardio-vascular health and just for the fun of it. ~