4 of 6
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
976 pages; Little, Brown and Company

The flaws of The Goldfinch are the kind you rage against and forgive in any long relationship—it is 800 pages—but its joys are many, among them the protagonist, Theo Decker, who is caught in a bomb blast as a boy while visiting a museum, and almost in a haze, removes a valuable painting from the rubble. What follows is a Dickensian tale of his moving from home to home, being used by adults and befriending the "bad kid" in town, Boris.

Here's where Tartt really nails young men. Their friendship is situational, as most male friendships are: They just happen to be near each other. They never really talk; they do things together, sneak out together, do drugs and screw up their young lives together, and they are more important to each other than their girls. When Boris returns late in the novel with revelations and yet another terrible plan, I felt such wrenching recognition: A long-lost friend returns, the one who knew you when, and can reveal you, not to other people, but to yourself. Somehow, there's no turning that friend away, recognizing as we do the worst part of ourselves in another man: our friend, whom we despise and also love.