Francine Prose has a wonderful—and by wonderful I mean articulate and scathing—review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch in the January 9th issue of the New York Review of Books, in which she points out that the book’s Dickensian aspects are not necessarily Dickens’ “originality, his intelligence, his witty and precise descriptions…his cadenced, graceful language…”
Perhaps it was this that kept me from feeling fully drawn into the novel—but more likely it was the cringe-worthy inaccuracies about life in 21st century New York (there will be spoilers):
Page 67: “Unexpectedly the drawer popped open. I stared down at the mess: rusty batteries, a broken cheese grater, the snowflake cookie cutters my mother hadn’t used since I was in first grade, jammed in with ragged old carry-out menus from Viand and Shun Lee Palace and Delmonico’s.”
These ragged old carry-out menus are rather suspect.
Viand: A reasonable choice, but they don’t deliver south of 81st street, and the Deckers live at East 57th.
Shun Lee Palace: I assume the name is meant to invoke your average Chinese takeout, but Shun Lee Palace is a well known white-tablecloth restaurant, where even the Moo Shu Pork and Chicken with Broccoli cost $25. While the Deckers were only poor by Park Avenue standards, this seems a little steep. Yelp tells me they do offer takeaway, though. Their website is a blank page that says “This Account Has Been Suspended For Billing Verification and Policy Violation.”
Delmonico’s: Do you mean the upscale Financial District steakhouse where a cheap dinner might mean a $45 filet mignon? Because they do deliver, but not that far uptown. Or did you mean the nondescript East Side deli Delmonico Gourmet? I know, I know–the latter just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
They really liked Shun Lee Palace.
Page 150: “‘Listen,’ I said to Andy several days later…’can you cover for me this afternoon?’ ‘Certainly,’ said Andy, taking a greedy swallow of his coffee. ‘How long?’ ‘Don’t know.’ Depending on how long it took me to change trains at Fourteenth Street, it might take forty-five minutes to get downtown; the bus, on a weekday, would be even longer.”
Except Theo neither has to change trains at Fourteenth Street nor does the trip take 45 minutes. Theo wants to get from his school on the Upper West Side, down to Hobie’s on West 10th Street, and then back up to the Barbour’s on Park Avenue.
Leg 1: A straight shot on the 1 train from wherever the school is down to Christopher Street/Sheridan Square. From 86th street, that would be 20 minutes. From 96th even less time if Theo can catch an express train.
Leg 2: Yes, the 4/5/6 that Theo needs to take back uptown runs through Union Square. But that is as close as he can get to West 10th without having to get out and walk–there is no train he could have gotten on at Christopher Street or West 4th that would require changing at 14th Street. Maybe he walked up to the L at 6th Avenue? In any case, the trip averages closer to 30 minutes.
Page 362 (note: This is the worst offense.): “As tired as I was, and cold, still my heart stiffened to see the Park, and I ran across Fifty-Seventh (Street of Joy!) to the leafy darkness.”
First, Street of Joy? Really? Now that that’s out of the way, did Theo bound up a couple of blocks that go unmentioned? Or in this not-so-distant future did Central Park descend two blocks, obliterating Bergdorf’s and the Plaza and nestling up across the street from the Apple Store? It’s called copy editing. The southern edge of Central Park is Fifty-Ninth Street.
Page 562: “Politely I stood around their antique farm tables, drinking myself into a stupor as they chatted about their country houses, their co-op boards, their school districts, their gym routines–that’s right, seamless transition from breast feeding although we’ve had some big changes in the nap schedule lately, our oldest just starting pre-K…”
How many Upper-East-Side-y New Yorkers are having children while in college? Let’s get some things straight here: Theo is 26. Kitsey is 22. These are Kitsey’s friends. Now, we know that Kitsey hangs around with a slightly older crowd–Theo, Tom Cable–so maybe her friends are closer to Theo’s age than her own. 24 year olds with 4 year old children? 22 year olds with one year olds? 26 year olds already on their second? (A 2000 study conducted by the New York Department of City Planning notes that “residents of Manhattan exhibited a pattern of delayed fertility” with some striking graphics.)
This could be a clever commentary on Peaches-Geldof-style early breeding, wherein women freed from having to establish careers or pay off student loans have children at considerably younger ages than the rest of the population. But more likely it’s just a major plot oversight.
Page 139: “Andy’s iPhone chimed.”
iPhones exist, which means the story begins no earlier than 2007. And yet…
Apparently teenagers in 2007-2009 write letters as their primary means of contact. Or by “write,” are we to assume “write a Facebook message”? It appears not, as Theo follows through with his anachronistic communication strategy…
Page 251: “I only had access to email on the computer at school…Mrs. Barbour dutifully answered the paper letters I sent…I wrote to Pippa in Texas though she was too ill to answer.”
…despite the fact that he had a laptop back in New York.
Page 37: “[Welty] was, I saw, pointing over at a dusty rectangle of board, virtually invisible in the broken beams and rubbish, smaller than my laptop computer at home.”
I can only imagine that Larry and Xandra stole this laptop and pawned it, thereby abandoning Theo to his sad, novel-appropriate letter-writing existence.