Thursday, August 11, 2016

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

The other evening I was having dinner with a new friend; we were talking about our favorite books. When I asked her what her most recent favorite book was she thought for a moment and replied, I read it two years ago; it was The Great Gatsby. Embarrassingly, I think I actually shrieked to her that I was reading the book right now. 

It's so great when you and your new friend like the same books.

As I said the other day, I've read this book before. First time was in high school: HATED IT. Several times again over the years when someone would mention that they liked it: STILL HATED IT. I also didn't care for the Robert Redford, Mia Farrow film from '74. But, as I also mentioned the other day, I read too fast and I now realize that I have, time and again, missed the beauty of the book. 
When I read it this time I didn't miss the language.

As I read Gatsby on my ereader this time I highlighted dozens of passages, beautiful writing, good quotations. I read it over several days even though it is s very short novel. I even stopped for a couple of days in order to read the new Harry Potter. (worth it)

I'm grateful to F. Scott Fitzgerald for having Nick Carraway tell this tale of people who are so incredibly bankrupt of common decency because I wouldn't have wanted to hear the story from anyone else: Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Meyer Wolfsheim, Myrtle Wilson. I'm glad Nick is the narrator because he is fair, truthful, decent, and he is confused by the intrapsychic feelings of worthlessness that seem to plague so many ultra-wealthy people. Without Nick's observations and good heart the tale wouldn't be worth telling. Tom and Daisy wouldn't be people worth knowing.

Nick's storytelling gave beauty to the people and to the memories. He paints beautiful pictures with his words and moves us like a master.

If not through Nick's opinions and words I would not know what to think about Jay Gatsby. Was Gatsby a pitiful sham of a human being? Was he a corrupt bootlegger? Was he a deranged and obsessed man in mental anguish? Or was he a lovesick romantic worthy of our compassion? A man pursuing meaning in a life of empty pleasure?

I've decided that I care about Jay Gatsby for a simple reason: that he is hopeful. He is a man from very modest means attempting to navigate the culture of the extraordinarily wealthy, albeit through illegal means. I choose to see his admittedly stalker ways as romantic, charming, and human. I love that he reinvented himself, that he lifted himself up and pursued his dreams. According to the rules of The American Dream, you can't do better than that. Seems the biggest misfortune in Gatsby's life happened the moment he met the beautiful and flawed Daisy, the girl who seemed to be living the American dream...

The wealthiest in the country in the Jazz Age of the 1920s were, then, living the American dream. But is the American dream really lots of money, pursuing excess and pleasure, intoxication, jewels, spending huge amounts of money? Or is that pursuit just as empty, disappointing, and misleading as chasing Daisy Buchanan turned out to be? Gilded but ultimately not worth it?

I am disgusted by the insipid Daisy Buchanan and her equally heartless, morally bankrupt husband Tom Buchanan. I'm certain it was their abrupt departure during the crisis that destroyed poor Nick.

I haven't read anything else by F. Scott Fitzgerald but I see by the titles and description of his famous books The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night, and This Side of Paradise all seem to be exploring the raging 1920s and the decadence juxtaposed with the beauty, the greed and the fragility, weakness, and the vulnerability of love. Gatsby certainly fits that focus. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald's own life choices fit that focus as well. 

Most of us know of Fitzgerald's Jazz Age lifestyle, his chronic alcoholism and over-the-top way of life, and his relationship with the tragically unstable and schizophrenic Zelda. Take those major struggles in his life and it's no wonder he would write books about such pain, struggle, emptiness, illness, and decline. What is a wonder is that he could do so with such beautiful language and in an interestingly clear perspective of a clear-headed, voice of integrity like Nick Carraway.

Some of my favorite quotes from are not the usual ones you find repeated online, but the longer, lovelier descriptions and dreamy imagery by Nick Carraway. Some of this is too beautiful for the story of HollaGirl Daisy.
  • We were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness. 
  • I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
  • His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete. 
  • If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees. 
  • For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened - then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
  • Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For awhile these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.

There's more, lots more, but you'll have to read for yourself to appreciate it.

I'd already seen the Robert Redford film so I watched the Leonard DeCaprio version. While I adore the beautiful Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Leonardo seemed simply too old for the character of Gatsby. Besides, nobody says "Old Sport" quite as sincerely and heartbreakingly as Robert Redford. Robert Redford is incredibly beautiful and fits the role better in his natural vulnerability and his preppy, pretty-boy face.

With certainty that I will read even better books, I'm giving Gatsby an 8 out of 10 stars.

  Again, I have to thank my sister Linda for  
  encouraging me to reread this book.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nick & Jay & Daisy

I know I said I would only write about books I've never read before, but it's as though I'm reading this book for the first time. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is one of those books you can read again and again and always read something new.The first several times I read this book, usually under duress, I hated the book. Hated. The Book. Hated. The. Characters. Hated. It.

But I'm the lucky one because my sister Linda is a tremendous lover of literature and she is my own personal literature advocate. She and I were talking about Gatsby the other day. I was saying how awful I thought it was and how I was surprised she was making her kids read it. (She teaches high school English and Literature). She told me her kids LOVE it; I was doubtful.

Linda started her magic with me.

She told me that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a poet, that his writing is beautiful and lyrical and poetic and, if I would pay attention to the writing, that I would love it. Furthermore she told me that she often encourages her students to skip the first chapter of the book ("Nick can be long winded") and skip to the second chapter, right into the fun part of the book.

I have been a heavy reader for my entire life, but recently I've realized I have been reading wrong. As a young girl I was the fastest reader in my class, as per the speed reading machine, and I was proud of that. I have continued to read very fast, often reading for story rather than for language, skimming, zipping through long books, missing lots of detail and depth. This past month has been a huge epiphany for me; I've decided to sloooow it down and enjoy the read, rather than get through it quickly.

Maybe that is why I am appreciating Gatsby so much this time.
I'll be back in a few days (or more!) with my post on The Great Gatsby.

  Don Birnam, the protagonist of Charles Jackson's   
  The Lost Weekendsays to himself,  
  referring to The Great Gatsby,  
  "There's no such thing ... as a flawless novel. 
  But if there is, this is it."