“The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson–sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.” – Amazon’s summary.
Donna Tartt really came through with a masterful plot and endearing, memorable characters in The Little Friend. Harriet is a character you can only root for and hope for the very best. She is determined, independent, and fiery, but she’s also still just a twelve year old kid who wants to be loved and coddled but can’t verbalize her feelings. Not to mention those feelings mixed with her family trauma only make things more confusing and difficult to speak out about to the adults around her who haven’t allowed themselves to heal. So Harriet is left to her own devices to deal with a persistent feeling of loneliness and the sadness of loss and the affects those emotions have on herself and those closest to her, all at the age of twelve when hardly anything in life makes any sense and you are about to enter a period of confusing bodily changes and hormone fluctuations! So really, even with her sometimes childish temper tantrums, I still think Harriet deserves a “that poor baby!”
Some of the other key players in this story, the Ratliff boys, are also a tragic family, but they didn’t elicit as much sympathy – at least not from me – as Harriet and her family. Harriet gets fixated on Danny Ratliff as the main suspect for her brother’s murder which puts her right in the middle of their shady family operations. Danny becomes just as fixated on Harriet as she is on him since he notices she is always around when shit hits the fan. He sees her as a bad omen and believes her to have been sent by someone to screw with them. He wants answers about why she seems to be targeting them, and she wants answers about her brother. They skirt around each other several times before it all escalates to the major climax.
I have to say, the winding down of the book after the climactic showdown between Harriet and Danny was much less satisfying than I hoped for. There’s no real resolution for anybody, and there were several things that could have been elaborated on. After reading the last sentence, I found myself wanting just a bit more. I wanted so many of the characters to just talk to each other, to bring resolution. That’s just how I am though. I don’t like when things are left unresolved in my own life so I like fiction to be a better version of life, even if only just slightly more satisfying.
Overall though, it was still an incredibly engaging story – quite heart-wrenching at times, sometimes quite humorous too! And, having lived in the south my whole life, I can say many of these characters seem strikingly familiar. Donna Tartt truly is a masterful story teller.