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 Fiction Review    

 

 
The Little Friend
By Donna Tartt
Knopf, 2002
Hardcover, $26.00 (480 pages)
ISBN: 0679439382
 
 
 

The pages written by booklovers during the ten years of anticipation for Donna Tartt’s 555-page second novel, The Little Friend, could probably fill a volume larger than both of her voluminous novels.  Tartt delivers in her latest even though many have been disillusioned that The Little Friend is different than The Secret History, her first novel.  Part of the disappointment may lie in the change of settings.  In The Little Friend, the Mississippi-born writer leaves the cold Northeast for her native South.  However, the richness that Tartt brings to capturing Mississippi is remarkable.  Kudzu fairly drips from the pages. 

The Little Friend introduces a family who is devastated by the loss of nine-year old Robin Cleve Dufresnes.  On a Mother’s Day in the 1970s, Robin, the male offspring in this female-rich family, is found hanging from a tree in the Dufresnes’ backyard.  His death haunts the family:  “…[Harriet] felt her dead brother draw close to her side, his silence friendly, confidential.”  Twelve years after his unsolved murder, Harriet—an infant at the time of his death—decides to uncover his murderer.   

Harriet is a precocious pre-teen who is joined on her summer sleuthing by Hely Hull, who alternately fears and loves Harriet.  Tartt handily guides the reader through, with colorful happenings, which are followed with more amazing scenes.  A random selection from the multitude:  “When they heaved themselves up, and turned—tears streaming down their faces—to look back at the way they’d just come, they saw only the path they’d beaten through the yellow-flowered scraggle of bitterweed, and the melancholy pastels of the dropped lunchbox, farther back.”  The junior detectives wade through poisonous snakes and illegal drugs and Harriet’s disharmonious family life. 

Tartt’s The Little Friend is certain to become a classic.  It is already a must-read.  Tartt’s dense prose may slow a reader sometimes, but the characters and images, which linger with the reader, make the read worth it.  And also worth the decade-long wait.

 

Elizabeth King Humphrey
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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