Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Great Gatsby: Review

I don't quite get why The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is billed as possibly "the Greatest American Classic."  [Personally, my vote goes to To Kill a Mockingbird.] Honestly, it's a fairly decent read.  It's a pretty darn quick read (5 hours--including time to work in there).  Fitzgerald has a way with words...mostly. There are times when I tripped over some of his adjectives-- "dilatory" limousine comes to mind (how exactly is a limousine "dilatory"???).  But he had plenty of interesting passages that just seemed have flowed right out of his pen (off his typewriter?) and I gleaned all kinds of quotes (as you'll see below).  And, yeah, I get that he's given us a nice little slice of the Jazz Age--people showing up to parties they haven't been invited to, drinking like fish, playing at being best friends with people whose names they don't even know, making free with Gatsby's house and servants and liquor cabinet and pool.  Generally representing the wild, Roaring Twenties.  I get the whole Gatsby and Daisy representing the disillusioned youth and the emptiness of the American Dream thing.  After all, none of those gate-crashers (or even folks who claimed to be Gatsby's pals) bothered to show up for him in the end.  Well....none but the narrator and the owl-eyed, unnamed man.

Admittedly, I was a bit saddened by the ending, nice and tragic and just a bit pointless (in a pointed way, you know)....but I didn't really care about Gatsby and Daisy and Tom and the Wilsons the way I imagine I was supposed to...and the way I thought I would given the first half of the novel.  Just when FSF had started to build up my interest in this mysterious Gatsby character (about whom nobody really knows anything), he lost me. Maybe that's because our narrator, Nick, seems pretty disconnected from it all.  If the man representing our "eyes" in this world is so removed from the characters, then it's difficult to get deeply involved with them.

Oh, and spoiler here, but how the heck did Mrs. Wilson escape from the rooms over the garage in order to get killed?  Last we heard of her, she was locked in--for two more days or so.  Loved that she suddenly was out--just in time to get run over and help propel us to that depressing ending.  The least FSF could have done is explain what she's doing out of the room.  Don't just say, "Hey, you know what, I need to wrap this book up now and somebody's gotta die because I've got this depressing ending planned.  Let's make it Mrs. Wilson." Poof, she's running out in the road now.

Final analysis: Decent read, but totally overrated as the uber-classic of American Lit.  I'm willing to agree that it represents an Age--but I'm not convinced that it deserves superstar status based on that alone. Three stars--mostly for writing style.

I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the Park through soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering.  I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life. (p. 35)

A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble. (p. 43)

We all turned an looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculations he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world. (p. 44)

USMM: I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.
JB: Has it?
USMM: A little bit, I think. I can't tell yet.  I've only been here an hour.
[Unnamed, stout, middle-aged man; Jordan Baker] (p. 46)

I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound. (p. 47)

...I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy. [Jordan Baker] (p. 49)

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people I have ever known. [narrator] (p. 58)

It's a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue, and moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind they don't see or care. [Jordan Baker] (p. 77)

There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired. (p. 79)

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words came through. (p. 85)

...there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room. (p. 89)

When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air. (p. 108)

There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind.... (p. 125) grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested--interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end. (p. 164)

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead. [Wolfsheim] (p. 172)


Gigi Ann said...

I tried to read this book, but, personally I found it very boring. I can't imagine people living like that, but then I come from a very poor background. Maybe that is why I can't imagine people living like that. Oh well, we can't all be pleased, now can we? hee, hee.

Gina @ Hott Books said...

Goodness!! It's been so very long since I've read this... Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

Hayes said...

Great review, Bev. And I so agree... really over rated.

Hayes said...

The book, I mean.

Julie @ Read Handed said...

I don't think it is overrated. The argument I've always heard (and with which I agree) maintains that The Great Gatsby is not amazing necessarily because of the storyline or characters themselves, but because it is a textbook-perfect novel. The arc of the plot line, the neatness of the literary devices, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) details that are symbols of something greater. It is just an excellent piece of writing and a wonderful example of the novel as a form. Nearly every sentence drives the novel and creates its motifs and overall message. That's tough to do. There are no extras - anything removed from the novel would change it and make it weaker. And all of this looks so effortless to the reader - like a baseball player making a difficult catch so easily that nobody thinks it's impressive.
Anyway, not to wax on forever, but these issues of craftsmanship are generally why The Great Gatsby is regarded to be such a work of art. :)

J F Norris said...

I agree with Julie. I still find a lot to admire in this book. She talks about the writing and structure. But I think the characters have become iconic. So many writers who followed in Fitzgerald's footsteps modeled their novels on this one and there are many many copycat Gatsbys, Daisys and Nick Carroways in popular American fiction of the 20s and 30s. There still are! When I first read this book it was haunting to me. It's a novel whose power is best appreciated by a reader who hasn't succumbed to cynicism or a jaded worldview. I was floored by it when I was in my 20s. I think young men probably respond to it a lot more. And the last paragraph (which you perhaps wisely omit in your best quotes) I can quote at the drop of a hat - or the stroke of an oar. The final sentence is as famous as the first sentence of the Gettysburg address.

Bev Hankins said...

Julie & John: We will have to agree to disagree. Quite honestly, I can quote the first sentence of the Gettysburg address right now and I haven't read the text since school. I just finished Gatsby. I couldn't quote the last sentence if you held a gun to my head. It has the word "borne" in it--and I can tell you that only because I picked up a used copy and some person decided to circle that word in red. Maybe they didn't like the "e."

My take isn't that FSF isn't a craftsman--I do refer to his way with words. But perfect? Couldn't possibly change anything to make it better? Not in my opinion. There are enough places where the word choice jars (my example of "dilatory" is just one) or descriptions or actions aren't quite right that I think some improvements could have been made.

Everything drives us to the conclusion?--perhaps. Especially since he contrived it (as I mention in the spoiler) so Mrs. Wilson is suddenly out of the locked room/s. Explanation, please. We were explicitly told by our craftsman that Wilson locked her in and wasn't going to let her out until it was time to leave town. Did Wilson let her out to argue with or further confront her? Did she climb out the window? Teleport? No clue. We need her on the spot so she can get run over, so here she is. And, yes, I realize that authors do arrange things to a purpose--It's good craftsmanship to make sure that those arrangements make sense.

I'm not an my viewpoint may be a bit different. I much prefer Brit lit. But...this is important to me...I have a firm dislike of stream of consciousness writing and I have still given Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust a higher rating than Gatsby. That was a difficult read...but I got more out of it than I did from FSF's "effortless" "catch."

Not saying that Gatsby isn't great literature. Not saying that it doesn't define a period of American history. Just saying that--in my opinion--it's not the "Greatest" American Classic. I think there are other contenders.

Moniquereads said...

I tried to read this in high school and remember that it was boring. I am going to have to try it again as an adult and see if my taste has changed.

neer said...

Perhaps the horrendous cover put you off, Bev. Just whom/ what is it supposed to represent? Surely not Daisy!

I rather like the book but then like John, I read it an impressionable age.

Olamide Ewetusa said...

I completely agree with your review of The Great Gatsby. To Kill a Mockingbird is by far one of my favorite books. Although The Great Gatsby had a lot of sentimental value, it was just too boring for me.

Heidenkind said...

I agree with Julie. It's been a while since I read it, but aside from being a textbook-perfect novel, I think the point of it IS that it's shallow and we don't care about the characters. Fitzgerald was saying that's what the American Dream is all about.

That being said, I don't think it's the only great American novel, by far. I get annoyed that The Maltese Falcon isn't as lauded at The Great Gatsby--it's just as well-written and has a similar scope.

Bev Hankins said...

Tasha: I agree that Falcon should get more credit as literature (and not just the credit it gets within the mystery field). I'm not big on noir/hardboiled fiction, but I loved Falcon...Hammett certainly could write!

Susan@ Reading World said...

The Great Gatsby is one of those books I keep saying I should read and it keeps sitting on my shelf unpicked up. But I WILL get to it one of these days!