When I packed up my suitcase to fly from New York to Missouri to my parents’ house, I didn’t bring much with me. I did decide, however, to bring home a copy of a book that had been sitting on my shelf for weeks: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I figured if there was ever going to be a time that I could sit down and read the nearly-800-page tome, it would be in quarantine during a pandemic.
As a reader (and a person), I’m the instant-gratification-type. I generally read books less than 400 pages, because it means I can read more of them in less time. Plus, I’m a commitment-phobe. I’m very stubborn about finishing most books I pick up (exceptions include The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, sorry!), so the thought of being stuck reading an 800 page book that I didn’t even like terrified me. Still, I knew I wanted to read The Goldfinch, I just had to get over my fears.
Once I started it, I didn’t stop.
I devoured The Goldfinch in less than two weeks. Donna Tartt’s page-turning epic follows the story of Theo Decker, a boy who survives his mother in a fatal tragedy and comes into possession of one of the world’s most famous paintings. As he moves through the next two decades of his life, he finds himself out of place no matter where he is, befriending vivid characters, falling in unrequited love, and slipping into the seedy underbelly of the art world.
Trailing Theo’s life from the time he’s only thirteen years old until his late twenties, Tartt takes no shortcuts. Every movement and moment of Theo’s life is faithfully tracked, and while that sounds tiresome as a reader, Tartt’s storytelling is masterful and engaging. Besides a slow spot smack in the middle of the book that had me texting a friend, “Does it pick back up? Is it worth it?” (she responded with a resounding “YES” that I have to now agree with), the pacing of the story is nearly perfect. It’s quick enough to keep one engaged, while drawn out enough to create tension. And I mean tension. At the different emotional heights of the book I found myself emotionally and physically tense, anxious, and eager to keep reading, holding my breath.
The characters of The Goldfinch as well are dynamic, vivid, and well-established. Instantly, characters like the soft-spoken Hobie who restores antiques in his shop’s basement, the Ukrainian 14-year-old drunk Boris, and most notably the sanctified ghostly presence of Theo’s deceased mother are able to come to . That being said, one of Tartt’s largest obstacles in The Goldfinch is the question of Theo’s redemption. Theo’s character is so deeply flawed and constantly making bad decisions based on poor judgement, and throughout 771 pages has almost no growth or development. Everything happens to Theo—he is a bystander in his own story with little moral standards or independence. While this makes it difficult to empathize with Theo, it makes the story itself even more engrossing.
While this wasn’t a five-star book for me—I reserve such a rating only for the books I feel have absolutely changed my life and worldview—it was definitely a well earned four-star. The only thing that really negatively affected the book and its rating for me was the final chapter: a seemingly never-ending philosophical pondering on the meaning of life from Theo—someone I don’t exactly want to take life advice from. Ending the book on that note left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but still the impact of the other 760 pages of the book was powerful enough to overcome that final chapter.
There was actually quite a bit of food mentioned in The Goldfinch. What stood out to me the most was a passing mention of a cherry tart early on in the book:
I knew that I wanted to riff off that cherry tart, and came up with these delicious cherry hand pies. While they are time-consuming, they’re relatively easy and give the whole house a sweet, sugary country smell.
Cherry Hand Pies
A handheld personal dessert that will have your neighbors knocking on your door asking, “What is that amazing smell?”
Yield: 4 hand pies | Prep time: 1 hour and 45 min | Cook time: 18 min | Total time: 2 hours and 3 minutes
- 1 lb frozen sweet cherries – thawed overnight in refrigerator
- ½ cup sugar
- 3-5 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- Optional: 1/8 tsp almond extract
- Puff pastry (I used a pre-made sheet from the grocery store, though you can make your own)
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp water
- Mix sugar and thawed cherries. Simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
- Once the cherries are tender and have released most of their juices, strain the cherries and continue to cook the released juices until reduced to ½ to 1/3 cup.
- In a small bowl, add cherry juice to cornstarch (start with 3 Tbsp), whisking together to create a slurry.
- Add slurry, cherries, lemon juice, and almond extract (if you’re using it) back into pot over medium heat. Stir constantly! Careful that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- If after a couple minutes the filling isn’t thickening as much as you’d like it to, strain again and add juices to another 1 Tbsp or so of cornstarch. Add slurry back into the cherry mixture on stove. Continue until you reach desired consistency.
- Remove filling from stove and allow to cool completely. Moving the filling into another bowl will help expedite the cooling process.
- While the filling cools, lay out the puff pastry sheet and cut into 8 equal rectangles in order to create 4 medium sized hand pies. (You could also use a cookie cutter to create heart shaped or circle hand pies, cut them into smaller sizes to create more pies, etc.—just be aware that this will affect your cooking time.)
- Cut three small slashes across half of the puff pastries—these will be the top of your hand pies.
- Once filling has cooled, use a cookie scoop to plop filling onto the pastries without slashes. Place the tops onto the pies and use a fork to seal and crimp the edges.
- Brush an egg wash over the pies.
- Place the assembled pies in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- After refrigeration, bake pies in the oven at 450 degrees for 17-19 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely before you dig in…if you can manage to wait.
- You can skip refrigerating the assembled hand pies if you’d like, though the dough is less likely to rise evenly, and the filling may spill out.
- I tested this recipe both with and without almond extract, it boils down to your personal taste. While I preferred the sweeter version without the almond extract, my dad (AKA Official Taste Tester) preferred the nuttier bite that the almond extract adds.
- You can, of course, use fresh sweet cherries for this recipe. However, be ready to spend a good 30 min to an hour pitting the cherries beforehand.
- For sour cherries, leave out lemon juice and add more sugar to taste.
- You’ll likely end up with some extra cherry pie filling—perfect to add on top of pancakes, oatmeal, crepes, or a hundred other possibilities!