The Little Friend: A Chevron Ross Book Review

By July 7, 2023No Comments

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How do you review a book that you both admire and loathe at the same time? Donna Tartt’s work can be so exasperating, as life is for the main character in her second novel, The Little Friend.

Harriet Dufresnes is only a baby when her brother is found hanging from a tree in the family’s front yard. She grows up obsessed with finding out who killed him – if it was a murder, which I could never quite figure out. At age twelve, Harriet seems to be the only person in her family with a grip on reality. Her mother and sister are dysfunctional, and her aunts are like paper cutouts from an old ladies’ tea party. Sinister characters populate her Mississippi town, particularly a family of goonish drug dealers.

Tartt’s novel, running more than six hundred pages, is surprisingly compelling for its length. Harriet is so precocious that one cannot help being drawn into her world of curiosity and constant fear as her drive toward revenge leads to dangerous waters. Despite her intellect, she retains a child’s craving for love and reassurance.

The novel contains many suspenseful scenes, including a hallucination resulting from Harriet’s attempt to hold her breath, a nail-biting encounter with a room full of snakes, and a perilous moment inside a water tower. Our journey into the mind of Danny Ratliff is the most fascinating exploration of a drug addict’s psyche I have ever read.

These are only two of the characters who shape this richly-textured world of small-town Southern life in the 1970s. It’s a shame that the author could not find a way around the offensive language that pervades the novel. Donna Tartt’s work is always so dark and disturbing that I wonder if there are any admirable people in her personal outlook. Nevertheless, she is an exceptionally gifted writer. I’m sorry I must limit my rating of this book to four stars.

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