The second novel by Donna Tartt, bestselling author of The Goldfinch (winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize), The Little Friend is a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.
The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.
Widely anticipated over the decade since her debut in The Secret History, Tartt's second novel confirms her talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality. If the theme of The Secret History was intellectual arrogance, here it is dangerous innocence. The death of nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dufresnes, found hanging from a tree in his own backyard in Alexandria, Miss., has never been solved. The crime destroyed his family: it turned his mother into a lethargic recluse; his father left town; and the surviving siblings, Allison and Harriet, are now, 12 years later it is the early '70s largely being raised by their black maid and a matriarchy of female relatives headed by their domineering grandmother and her three sisters. Although every character is sharply etched, 12-year-old Harriet smart, stubborn, willful is as vivid as a torchlight. Like many preadolescents, she's fascinated by secrets. She vows to solve the mystery of her brother's death and unmask the killer, whom she decides, without a shred of evidence, is Danny Ratliff, a member of a degenerate, redneck family of hardened criminals. (The Ratliff brothers are good to their grandmother, however; their solicitude at times lends the novel the antic atmosphere of a Booth cartoon.) Harriet's pursuit of Danny, at first comic, gathers fateful impetus as she and her best friend, Hely, stalk the Ratliffs, and eventually, as the plot attains the suspense level of a thriller, leads her into mortal danger. Harriet learns about betrayal, guilt and loss, and crosses the threshold into an irrevocable knowledge of true evil.If Tartt wandered into melodrama in The Secret History, this time she's achieved perfect control over her material, melding suspense, character study and social background. Her knowledge of Southern ethos the importance of family, of heritage, of race and class is central to the plot, as is her take on Southerners' ability to construct a repertoire, veering toward mythology, of tales of the past. The double standard of justice in a racially segregated community is subtly reinforced, and while Tartt's portrait of the maid, Ida Rhew, evokes a stereotype, Tartt adds the dimension of bitter pride to Ida's character. In her first novel, Tartt unveiled a formidable intelligence. The Little Friend flowers with emotional insight, a gift for comedy and a sure sense of pacing. Wisely, this novel eschews a feel-good resolution. What it does provide is an immensely satisfying reading experience.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Great book! Right up there with the Goldfinch
I LOVE The Secret History! It was one of my favorite books and I loved The Goldfinch too. Perhaps that is a hard standard to live up to. I had to make myself finish this and seriously couldn't believe the ending. Just meh. Bleh. Like...really??? How many hours do I not get back? I don't want to spoil it but there are just so many unanswered questions and unresolved issues...but worse, is by the time you've meandered through the denseness of the excessive nonessentials...it's hard to care any longer; you're just happy to be done.
Donna Tartt is my favorite author. I read The Goldfinch and The Secret History before I read The Little Friend and I was so disappointed in it. I got about a third of the way through when I was just so bored I couldn't read anymore. I picked it up again a few weeks later and draaaaaged through it to the end. It constantly FEELS like something is about to happen, but it never does. Tartt goes into so much detail about trivial things I figured it must MEAN something. But it never did. This book just wasn't ABOUT anything. And there's NO RESOLUTION. It dribbled on with no ending. The opposite is true of her other books. The Secret History is my all time favorite book. I recommend it over The Little Friend. I was left feeling very frustrated, like I had my wallet stolen after I just cashed my check.