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Staying Power - Review of The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Joy Press has penned an interesting article about authors' "second-novel syndrome" in The Village Voice: "Everyone nurses a soft spot for the wunderkind -- the Jonathan Safran Foer, Alicia Keys, or Harmony Korine who swoops fully formed out of oblivion and into Entertainment Weekly. The publishing industry has become as besotted with these instant prodigies as the music or fashion worlds. Where publishers once allowed a writer's voice to develop over long, wiry careers, now they're impatient for that instant payoff, the debut blockbuster. All this mad love for the first novel could have long-term repercussions, though, dumping unrealistic expectations on the follow-up. The Second-Novel Syndrome has long been an occupational hazard in the world of letters, as authors struggle with writer's block, intense scrutiny, and the self-consciousness induced by sudden celebrity. . . . Jeffrey Eugenides and Donna Tartt have never met, but these literary superstars seem to have synchronized careers: Both debuted with acclaimed novels within six months of each other and then spent the next 10 years struggling with follow-ups amidst swirling rumors of creative paralysis. 'As much as I'd like to deny there's a second-book phenomenon, there probably is,' says Eugenides, whose hosanna'd debut, The Virgin Suicides, came out in 1993. . . . Donna Tartt took even longer to finish her second novel, The Little Friend. 'The way I dealt with this fear of 'second-novel syndrome' was to try and write a completely different book from The Secret History,' she told one interviewer. . . . Tartt started writing her debut as an undergrad at Bennington, and became an instant Gen X literary icon at age 28. Her high-profile image -- a chain-smoking Southern pixie at the center of New York's literary brat pack -- soon mutated into different type of glamour: a Garbo-esque withdrawal which only increased her cult following. Fans speculated about her activities (a project about outsider artist Henry Darger, which was real but never came to be), her mental health (gossip about a nervous breakdown), and her whereabouts (one story maintained that she'd bought her own tropical island, but she insists New York remains her home base).3 A.M. Magazine, October 27, 2002

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