Friday, February 8, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A crushingly poignant work. Now, I "get it", whereas when I read this as a teenager, I didn't. As a child, I was so bent on loving the anti-heroes that I missed the tragedy, the squandered possibilities, not within Gatsby, but within everyone else. As I read it, Gatsby isn't really the hero or the anti-hero at all. He is a hub around which the real stories churn. He is a soft, vulnerable, naive, ambitious machine. And while everything and everyone revolves around him, he is, in the end, abandoned, though not forgotten, by all but a few. But the real question remains, just who have they abandoned? And in remembering him, are Jordan, Tom, Daisy, Wolfsheim and others creating a man that was never really there? Gatsby is like a raw onion at the dinner table. The center of attention both because of his ability to flavor any dish and because of his stink. But to focus on the raw onion in the middle of the table is to miss the delectable dishes that compose the rest of the meal.

Fitzgerald knows how to pull at the heartstrings. I thought back to friends and girlfriends of long ago, situations, not the same, but similar to those of many of the characters that I've seen either in my own life or in the lives of those close to me. This book has a way of causing you to delve down behind the bookshelves of your mind and pull out those long-mangled scraps of paper, some of which you have been looking for for a long time, some of which you'd rather just forget.

The writing herein is beautiful. I'll leave with one admittedly (and indulgently) long quote, which speaks to the beauty of the work, as well as the feeling that Fitzgerald gives the reader of continuously being placed on the edge of an emotional precipice overlooking a drop to the ocean, hundreds of feet below. It's exhilarating, thrilling really, and quite, quite dangerous.

About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily
joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to
shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of
ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and
hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and
chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of
men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.
Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives
out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey
men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud
which screens their obscure operations from your sight.

But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift
endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.
J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and
gigantic--their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on
waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an
hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was
because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan's mistress.

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