The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Format/Source: Used paperback; selected for the Virginia Wine and Book Club May pick
In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write “something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned.” That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s—and his country’s—most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning—” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.
It’s also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means—and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel’s more famous descriptions. His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy’s patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.
Just like with Dante’s Inferno, I feel terrible when I don’t rate a classic five stars. Surely my interpretation or enjoyment of a classic should be as lofty as the place it sits within our culture. When the experts decide that it is a book that should be read in grade school, surely it is a pivotal book that must be given its due praise.
But I’m afraid, that while I completely respect the book, understand its place in our ranking of classics, and appreciate others’ obsession over it, I just didn’t ‘really like it’ (4 stars) or find it ‘amazing’ (5 stars). I did enjoy it, and definitely enjoyed it a lot more than when we had to read it in high school.
Until now, I had been under the impression that I had read the book in high school. It is clear now that I read the beginning and bs’d my way through the course because I certainly didn’t finish it. I remembered the ending as vague and mysterious, but now when I finished, I realized that the only way I could have been so wrong about that is that I simply didn’t reach the ending before. It certainly wasn’t mysterious, or at least not nearly as serious as I had ‘remembered’.
This book to me was like a painting. At some points, Fitzgerald paints with colors and subtleties and delivers a snapshot to the reader. At others, it as direct and plain, propelling the short story’s action. I found that I appreciated both, whereas in high school I got lost during the artisitic moments.
Perhaps this book deserves four stars from me. My sheer appreciation for this piece of art surely demands it. I think I’ve argued myself into granting it the extra star. I did really like it…perhaps sometimes you have to give it a second look to see the truth of the matter.
My rating: 4/5