“The panic that overtook me then was hard to explain. Those game days broke up with a swiftness, a sense of losing blood almost, that reminded me of watching the apartment in New York being boxed up and carted away: groundlessness and flux, nothing to hang on to.” (p.303)
While the title presupposes a story about the famous painting by a Dutch painter of the 1600s, it is really a trope that threads throughout the novel, indicating how one who has been traumatized, needs some kind of connection to that life before the trauma.
This is a story about a young fourteen-year-old boy whose life in the backdrop of New York City is routine and phlegmatic. Abruptly his life changes from a protected child into a motherless frightened kid, into finally a drugged out, piteous orphan, after meeting and living for a short period with his father.
His drugged out existence informs us, without ever really saying it, how one can become a sad and lonely human being; all this beginning within a few moments, as his mother is blown away by a bomb in the museum they were visiting for a while before he and his mother keep an appointment with his school principal. Talk about a twist of fate.
This is a true bildungsroman and the reader will find that the main character, as well as all the other characters, will resonate throughout, and long after when the reading is finished. I could not stop thinking about the author, the character, and the many situational ironies, consequences of fate, and so on–all of which made me thankful for the happy moments we all receive here and there before any kind of trauma exists. For those others who may not be so fortunate, or who may be beleaguered by hard circumstances that force choices one might never have taken had one never experienced sudden tragedy–my heart has been touched forever.
I am looking forward to reading her first book, “The Secret History” because not only does she reign in storytelling, but her turn of phrases, her metaphors, and her way of telling it, glistens with a cup full of romanticism; she uses the English language masterfully. You will certainly attain your money’s worth of a read, as many others agree, for she has won the Pulitzer Prize in the year of its publishing, was considered one of the best books of the year by many authoritative journals, magazines and on and on.
The psychology in the novel, by enlisting a host of diverse characters, demonstrates a child’s loss and how that child who suddenly becomes orphaned may lack love and guidance and the way in which people survive in spite of loss but inherit an anomic character, such as the main character Leo. This is an interesting term, anomie, and is further explained in sociological definitions: https://www.britannica.com/topic/anomie