"Now, Rembrandt," my mother said. "Everybody always says this painting is about reason and enlightenment, the dawn of scientific inquiry, all that, but to me it's creepy how polite and formal they are, milling around the slab like a buffet at a cocktail party. Although" she pointed"see those two puzzled guys in the back there? They're not looking at the bodythey're looking at us. You and me. Like they see us standing here in front of themtwo people from the future. Startled. 'What are you doing here?' Very naturalistic. But then"she traced the corpse, midair, with her finger"the body isn't painted in any very natural way at all, if you look at it. Weird glow coming off it, do you see? Alien autopsy, almost. See how it lights up the faces of the men looking down at it? Like it's shining with its own light source? He's painting it with that radioactive quality because he wants to draw our eye to itmake it jump out at us. And here"she pointed to the flayed hand"see how he calls attention to it by painting it so big, all out of proportion to the rest of the body? He's even turned it around so the thumb is on the wrong side, do you see? Well, he didn't do that by mistake. The skin is off the handwe see it immediately, something very wrongbut by reversing the thumb he makes it look even more wrong, it registers subliminally even if we can't put our finger on it, something really out of order, not right. Very clever trick." We were standing behind a crowd of Asian tourists, so many heads that I could see the picture scarcely at all, but then again I didn't care that much because I'd seen this girl.
She'd seen me, too. We'd been eyeing each other as we were going through the galleries. I wasn't quite even sure what was so interesting about her, since she was younger than me and a little strange-lookingnothing at all like the girls I usually got crushes on, cool serious beauties who cast disdainful looks around the hallway and went out with big guys. This girl had bright red hair; her movements were swift, her face sharp and mischievous and strange, and her eyes were an odd color, a golden honeybee brown. And though she was too thin, all elbows, and in a way almost plain, yet there was something about her too that made my stomach go watery. She was swinging and knocking a battered-looking flute case around with hera city kid? On her way to a music lesson? Maybe not, I thought, circling behind her as I followed my mother into the next gallery; her clothes were a little too bland and suburban; she was probably a tourist. But she moved with more assurance than most of the girls I knew; and the sly, composed glance that she slid over me as she brushed past drove me crazy.
I was trailing along behind my mother, only half paying attention to what she was saying, when she stopped in front of a painting so suddenly that I almost ran into her.
"Oh, sorry!" she said, without looking at me, stepping back to make room. Her face was like someone had turned a light into it.
"This is the one I was talking about," she said. "Isn't it amazing?"
I inclined my head in my mother's direction, in an attitude of attentive listening, while my eyes wandered back to the girl. She was accompanied by a funny old white-haired character who I guessed from his sharpness of face was related to her, her grandfather maybe: houndstooth coat, long narrow lace-up shoes as shiny as glass. His eyes were close-set, and his nose beaky and birdlike; he walked with a limpin fact, his whole body listed to one side, one shoulder higher than the other; and if his slump had been any more pronounced, you might have said he was a hunchback. But all the same there was something elegant about him. And clearly he adored the girl from the amused and companionable way he hobbled at her side, very careful where he put his feet, his head inclined in her direction.
Excerpted from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Copyright © 2013 by Donna Tartt. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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