The Great Gatsby – the book
March 30, 2015
As I mentioned in my review of the movie, I somehow avoided ever reading this great American novel. I don’t know how, it just happened. Because we read Madame Bovary or something stupid like that instead. I hear from lots of people that they hated The Great Gatsby in high school, but I rather suspect this is a book that teenagers aren’t really going to get — post-war existential angst, etc. So, I was curious. What’s it like reading this book for the first time at the age of 40+?
This book is amazing. Amazing writing. Just. . . See, most “classics” I read are classics for a reason — they’re really good. To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick — I’ve read them all later, out of high school, and I love them all. Here, just look at this:
“I had no sight into Daisy’s heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”
What I wouldn’t give to write a sentence like that. One sentence, Fitzgerald nails that character to the wall. The whole book is like that. It’s a character study more than anything, of this group of people chosen to represent a specific time and place that the author suspects might be kind of terrible.
It’s actually kind of wonderful in a horrifying way how every single character in this book is just an awful, awful person. And you know what? Nick Carraway is the worst of the bunch. What a spineless git. (Question for the academics: Has there been any commentary about the possibility that Nick is suffering from shellshock? His drifting, his seeming inability to make any decisions, his shifting attitudes and perceptions… Or is he just the ultimate post-war nihilist?)
But the most horrifying realization of all is the one that slowly creeps upon you as you are reading this book, almost a century after its publication, that a big chunk of 20th century American fiction has been all about people trying to write a book just like The Great Gatsby and failing miserably.