Winter's Tale--really does offer a nice contrast to The Goldfinch. Both are giant books (Goldfinch comes in at 775 pages) and somewhat epic in scope (Winter's Tale more than Goldfinch, though Tartt's novel does cover protagonist Theo's journey from child to adult). But, whereas Winter's Tale was an interminable slog, there's something about Goldfinch that keeps you hooked and reading more--even though Theo becomes an unsympathetic mope.
Goldfinch begins in dramatic fashion. Theo and his mom are heading to a school meeting over an infraction, and with time to kill, they stop inside a New York art museum. The museum is subject to a terrorist bomb attack, which results in Theo's mother's death--and Theo stealing "The Golfinch," a famous painting by Fabritius. From there Theo's life takes a huge downturn, including living with his gambler father in Las Vegas; forming a friendship with Boris, who's all too eager to drink and get high; and dealing in fake art.
Theo is immediately sympathetic. He's young and his life is suddenly upturned, but he has few people to offer support or stability. His family is so absent that he lives with a rich childhood friend (and his family) immediately after his mother's death. His dad is drunk and uninvolved at best, and it's easy to see how Theo soon falls into alcohol and drug abuse at an early age. What was fascinating to me, though, was that at some point you lose much of your sympathy for Theo. His life has been comprised of a terrible set of tragedies, but he also opts to take the easy way out--excessive drug use, illegal activities, hiding rather than presenting the truth.
But, through it all, I wanted to know what happened. The theft of the painting hangs at the edges of all that happens, periodically haunting the reader (and always haunting Theo) whenever you start to forget about it. And though Boris is nothing but trouble, you can't help but grin at his indefatigable nature.
Though the very end drug on a bit (lots of dialogue and philosophical musing), I was still surprised at how quick a read 775 pages could be.