Friday, June 5, 2020

Book Review - F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1925
Format: Hardcover, 198 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Nick Carraway has moved east to sell bonds in New York City. Because that's what young men do to make money right? Move east and sell bonds. But living out on Long Island he has an advantage across the bay. His wealthy former classmate from Yale, Tom Buchanan, lives in a luxurious house with his wife Daisy, who just happens to be Nick's cousin. At Nick's first dinner at their home he meets Jordan Baker, a rather infamous golfer, and gets ringside seats to the drama of the Buchanan household. There's trouble in paradise as Tom's mistress has the gall to call during the dinner hour! Of course, being old classmates, Nick is drawn into Tom's extramarital activities, and it isn't long before Nick is partying in the couple's love nest in the city where Myrtle's sister is insisting to Nick that Tom and Myrtle are miserable in their marriages and if it wasn't for Daisy being a Catholic there'd be two divorces and one marriage faster than you can blink. Nick can't be sure of this assertion and soon his life is about to be complicated by even more intrigue. He's going to be brought into Jay Gatsby's orbit. Jay Gatsby is Nick's infamous neighbor. Infamous for his parties and his secretive past. Everyone comes to his parties and yet no one ever sees him. Nick is about to see a lot of him as he brings Nick into his world and into his greatest regret, losing Daisy, the love of his life. He asks Nick to be a go-between. Of course fearing rejection he uses his own go-between, Jordan Baker. The request is simple enough, can Nick invite Daisy to his humble abode, only to have Gatsby swing in and take them to his manse next door? Nick is glad to help, especially as it's Jordan asking, and soon, like Daisy, he is under Gatsby's spell. But as Gatsby and Daisy's courtship from before the war proves, love and wooing never go smooth. Soon Tom realizes what is happening and there is a great reckoning that not everyone survives. That is the price of wealth and woo.

The Great Gatsby is light on plot with little depth and an unreliable narrator and for those very reasons it has become a classic. Other than a distinct "Americanness" and much rumination on the American Dream, everything is open to interpretation. Can we believe a word Nick says? Probably not. Can we blame Gatsby for how he made his fortune in order to woo the woman he loves? Depends on how he really got his money... which the characters themselves like to discuss ad nauseam. Can the valley of ashes be real or is it just a metaphor? You can literally read anything you want into this book. I was strongly reminded in the laborious and best skipped introduction of certain friends of mine who can talk for hours on end about the color symbolism in 2001: A Space Odyssey. What red means in one shot, followed by the blue of another. If they had a desire to, which I'm sure they don't, they could go into the symbolism of color that larders the pages of this book. The green light at the end of Daisy's dock, the golden sheen coming off Gatsby, all of it can be taken as something or nothing. The green could be tied to Daisy and how her voice is full of money. The green could be her openness to Gatsby's return. His golden sheen could be an outward aura of his wealth or a reference to the golden calf from the Bible and all the symbolism that weights him down because of that. In fact, though I never took a high school class that actually read The Great Gatsby, I can see why it's a popular one to teach. There is so much that can be drawn out of this book literally anything any student says is a possible interpretation. There is no wrong answer where it comes to The Great Gatsby! In fact, here's my weird little interpretation. I think The Great Gatsby is the inspiration for the TV series Remington Steele. Now prove me wrong! You literally can't. Steele is a man of infinite style whose past is dubious and who embodies the American Dream. He may or may not have tragedy in his past and as for that past, it shifts and changes with each retelling. Who knows, he might also have medals for heroic service as well as the known warrants for his arrest. This is how much this one book has become a part of the American consciousness that a popular TV show from the 80s could draw meaning form it for a modern audience and make it continually relevant. The Great Gatsby is a book for the ages.


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