The Little Friend
By Donna Tartt
Published by Knopf 
October 2002; 0-679-43938-2; 480 pages

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The Little Friend by Donna TarttFor the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son's death because she had decided to have the Mother's Day dinner at six in the evening instead of noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it. Dissatisfaction had been expressed by the elder Cleves at the new arrangement; and while this mainly had to do with suspicion of innovation, on principle, Charlotte felt that she should have paid attention to the undercurrent of grumbling, that it had been a slight but ominous warning of what was to come; a warning which, though obscure even in hindsight, was perhaps as good as any we can ever hope to receive in this life.

Though the Cleves loved to recount among themselves even the minor events of their family history-repeating word for word, with stylized narrative and rhetorical interruptions, entire death-bed scenes, or marriage proposals that had occurred a hundred years before-the events of this terrible Mother's Day were never discussed. They were not discussed even in covert groups of two, brought together by a long car trip or by insomnia in a late-night kitchen; and this was unusual, because these family discussions were how the Cleves made sense of the world. Even the cruelest and most random disasters-the death, by fire, of one of Charlotte's infant cousins; the hunting accident in which Charlotte's uncle had died while she was still in grammar school-were constantly rehearsed among them, her grandmother's gentle voice and her mother's stern one merging harmoniously with her grandfather's baritone and the babble of her aunts, and certain ornamental bits, improvised by daring soloists, eagerly seized upon and elaborated by the chorus, until finally, by group effort, they arrived together at a single song; a song which was then memorized, and sung by the entire company again and again, which slowly eroded memory and came to take the place of truth: the angry fireman, failing in his efforts to resuscitate the tiny body, transmuted sweetly into a weeping one; the moping bird dog, puzzled for several weeks by her master's death, recast as the grief-stricken Queenie of family legend, who searched relentlessly for her beloved throughout the house and howled, inconsolable, in her pen all night; who barked in joyous welcome whenever the dear ghost approached in the yard, a ghost that only she could perceive. "Dogs can see things that we can't," Charlotte's aunt Tat always intoned, on cue, at the proper moment in the story. She was something of a mystic and the ghost was her innovation.

 

But Robin: their dear little Robs. More than ten years later, his death remained an agony; there was no glossing any detail; its horror was not subject to repair or permutation by any of the narrative devices that the Cleves knew. And-since this willful amnesia had kept Robin's death from being translated into that sweet old family vernacular which smoothed even the bitterest mysteries into comfortable, comprehensible form-the memory of that day's events had a chaotic, fragmented quality, bright mirror-shards of nightmare which flared at the smell of wisteria, the creaking of a clothes-line, a certain stormy cast of spring light.


Excerpted from The Little Friend by Donna TarttCopyright 2002 by Donna Tartt. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Synopsis

The hugely anticipated new novel by the author of The Secret History—a best-seller nationwide and around the world, and one of the most astonishing debuts in recent times—The Little Friend is even more transfixing and resonant.

In a small Mississippi town, Harriet Cleve Dusfresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who—when she was only a baby—was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family, in the years since, recovered from the tragedy.

For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard stories about or glimpsed in photograph albums. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her twelve years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet’s sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child’s play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.

A revelation of familial longing and sorrow, The Little Friend explores crime and punishment, as well as the hidden complications and consequences that hinder the pursuit of truth and justice. A novel of breathtaking ambition and power, it is rich in moral paradox, insights into human frailty, and storytelling brilliance.

"This extraordinary book [has] a main character, a twelve-year-old girl named Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, who ranks up there with Huck Finn, Miss Havisham, Quentin Compson, and Philip Marlowe, fictional characters who don't seem in the least fictional . . . If To Kill a Mockingbird is the childhood that everyone wanted and no one really had, The Little Friend is childhood as it is, by turns enchanting and terrifying."
--Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

"Breathtaking . . . A sublime tale rich in religious overtones, moral ambiguities, and violent, poetic acts . . . From its darkly enticing opening, we are held spellbound." --Lisa Shea, Elle

"Readers are easily swept up in [a] darkly comic novel that . . . broadens to examine Southern racial and social strata, religious and generational eccentricities, and the passion of youth that gives way to the ambivalence of age. At times humorous, at times heartbreaking, The Little Friend is most surprising when it is edge-of-your-seat scary." --Dennis Moore, USA Today

"A sprawling story of vengeance, told in a rich, controlled voice . . . Tartt has written a grownup book that captures the dark, Lord of the Flies side of childhood and classic children's literature."
--James Poniewozik, Time

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Author

Donna TarttDonna Tartt was born in 1963 in Greenwood, Mississippi. Tartt cultivated her love of literature at a very young age. After high school she entered the University of Mississippi in Oxford, then transferred to Bennigton College in Vermont, where she began her first novel, The Secret History. Her first novel was published when she was 28 years old and turned out to be a huge hit. Her fans waited ten years for this second novel.

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