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June 18, 2014

“The Little Friend”

by Anne Paddock

…it was Christmas, there was a new baby in the house, everybody was happy and thought they would be happy forever.

Harriet Cleve Dufresnes had just entered the world as the third child of Charlotte and Dixon Cleve. Four months later, while baby Harriett was strapped in her swing on the front porch with her 4-year old sister, Allison playing nearby, 9-year old Robin was found hung from the tupelo tree in the front yard while the rest of the family was in the house setting up the table for a Mother’s Day celebration.  No one saw or heard a thing.

The family was devastated. Charlotte retreated to her bedroom and Dixon sought solace in work. Ida Rhew, the maid took care of Allison and Harriet while Charlotte’s mother, Edith and her three elderly spinster sisters played an active role in the children’s lives in the small town of Alexandria, Mississippi, a southern town ruled by tradition and custom that was “flat and desolate, a circuit of repeating street signs, a giant train set. The sense of unreality was what got you after a while. Airless streets, colorless skies. Buildings empty, only pasteboard and sham. And if you drive long enough,….you always end up right back where you started.”

The Little FriendWritten by Donna Tartt, The Little Friend is the story of two families: the Cleve family: four elderly women, a young mother, and her two daughters, and the Ratliff family: one elderly woman and her six grandsons, two of whom are in prison and what happens when their worlds collide in a small southern town ruled by tradition and class.

The story takes place sometime in the 1970’s, twelve years after Robin’s murder. Harriett is now 12 years old and “like the woodcutter’s child at the beginning of a fairy tale, a mysterious longing had possessed her, a desire to travel far and do great things; and though she could not say exactly what it was she wanted to do, she knew that it was something grand and gloomy and extremely difficult.” Determined not to return to the summer camp run by the First Baptist Church, Harriet starts thinking about Robin and decides to spend the summer avenging the death of the brother she doesn’t remember.

School has ended and Harriet had enlisted the help of her best friend, Hely , a classmate who would do anything for Harriet to solve the murder that shocked the small southern town. A smart, resourceful girl with an unshakable belief in herself, Harriet has little patience for those who don’t see the world they way she does. A survivalist, Harriet schemes and uses her wits in what becomes a very dangerous game of cat and mouse.

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize and a W.J. Smith Literary Award Winner, The Little Friend is a 600 page novel that is both hilarious, nail-biting and horrifying at times. Harriet is the 12-year old we all want to have been: brave, cunning, smart, independent and resourceful. She knows the adults don’t have the answers so she sets off on her own, trusting her instincts while keeping the adults close in her search for the truth.

 And though Harriet was not yet old enough to take care of herself, that day would arrive soon enough and then she would thrive no matter what befell her, be it famine or bank crash or Russian invasion.

 

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