(Note: a while ago a lit review site I do stuff for occasionally needed something quick to run in an emergency and they asked me to do the following post. Then, the emergency resolved before it ran and they didn’t end up needing it. They were going to work it in at some point, but there has just been too much actual content for them to run. Finally, I just decided to use it as a post here instead.)
It feels weird to site down and talk about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, kind of like a barbarian wandering into a cathedral for the first time. I even took off my shoes (seriously), because I heard a voice whisper that the ground upon which I walked was hallowed (okay, I’m playing around about the second part).
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I hate picking lists of favorite anything. I hate rankings in general. My mood simply changes over time and what I might pick one moment, presuming I could pick, would be different the next. That goes for books as well. I refuse all requests to say what my all time favorites are. Still, I do have a group of books that I consider shining more radiant than all other gems. Gatsby is definitely one of those.
However, I didn’t want to review Gatsby. I’ve seen such good reviews that I didn’t feel the need to. Even more than that, it was more than I thought I could chew. I preferred just to think about Gatsby once in a while, revel in it. But…I was willing to sit down and pick out things I loved about The Great Gatsby, so that is what I will do.
Mind you, this is not going to be a ranked list, or even a list of any kind. It will be a meandering set of thoughts because that is how I often think about Gatsby…and I do think about it often. Heck, it won’t even be exactly ten because I don’t like the rigidity of that. I’ll just blather on and you can count back later if you want.
One thing I love about this book is its hauntingly beautiful ache. The simultaneously hopeful yet inherently tragic quality of the story calls to me in ways few books do. Mind you, this includes much of Fitzgerald. Most of the time, his fiction is so depressing, yet extremely powerful, that I feel like I want to blow my brains out when I’m done reading. But, not Gatsby. This book is undeniably tragic, yet at the same time it reminds me of all that is best about humanity and life. We are doomed, but beautifully so. I can’t really put it any better than that.
Another think I love about The Great Gatsby is the way that it has utterly invaded my life. Not only do I sit back and think on it regularly, as well as re-read it again once every few years, but I even find myself responding to situations in life by attempting to quote the book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made fun of someone by referring to him or her as an “Oggsford man.” There are few books that have worked their way into my brain’s processing cycles like that.
Next, I love the way that Fitzgerald made Gatsby’s love so thoroughly, thoroughly doomed. This isn’t just a love story that gets thwarted by surprise factors; this was rotten through and through. I don’t blame Daisy, but it’s a hard thing to get over that she needed Jay to be rich. She may have loved him, but not enough–certainly not as much as Jay loves her. No matter what, something was going to thwart things. There was just no question, no matter how much I hope each time that I read that it turned out otherwise.
Also, let’s talk about the emotional hammer Fitzgerald slips in from time to time. Consider the moment when Daisy wishes that her daughter turns out to be “a beautiful little fool.” BAM! That’s Fitzgerald hitting you in the forehead with a sniper round. It’s such a perfect moment that it smacks right into the reader’s emotional core and festers there.
Of course, I also love the way that this book has worked its way into non-reading culture. If a book is truly good, even people who don’t read know about it. Off the top of my head, I can immediately remember the South Park episode where the kids get tested for ADD by being read a passage of Gatsby and then asked what kind of car Gatsby had been driving. There are many, many others.
Further, I shouldn’t forget the way that Fitzgerald redeems Nick for me. Much of his function in the book as an observer, which would make him kind of worthless for me, but he doesn’t entirely stay that way. His shout of how Gatsby’s “worth the whole damn bunch of them put together” works wonders. Gatsby may be a crook, but he is one of the most human crooks I’ve ever seen. He is certainly more human than Daisy or Tom, or the rest. Observer novels often don’t have the observer take sides. This one does, just a little bit, and I think it needed to.
But, what I love most about The Great Gatsby is the way that it parallels my view of life. Who knows, maybe that’s where I get my view. I first read the book over twenty years ago and it made a big impression on me. My take on the entire book is entirely in the last passage. Human life is all about that fruitless striving for that green light. We know it will remain forever elusive, but someday… To that end “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Gatsby, Gatsby, Gatsby, Gatsby… What else can I say? What else would I need to say? All the talk in the world won’t convey what I love about this book to you. Either you’ll read it and understand yourself, or you won’t.