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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on the Gatsby Theme

Rereading my last post, I realize I may have been too harsh. I retract none of it, but I may have been too harsh.

The fact remains, Gatsby is just an amazingly, amazingly beautiful book. I put it down yesterday, but I find myself today sneaking peaks at a passage here, a bit of dialogue there, checking to see if it's really as great as I think it is.

Yup, it is.

Honestly, what can you say against an author who defines personality as a "series of successful gestures." And that's on the first page. The scene where Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in five years at Nick's house and Gatsby leaves and goes around in the rain to a door on the other side so he can pretend he's just arrived is... Well, Nick informs us with a straight face it wasn't funny, but it's hilarious. Ditto for the fabulous guest list that goes on for two pages. And Tom! What a despicable, disgusting, utterly believable self-righteous butt-hole. Every sensitive reader will hope his inmost soul is Gatsby or Carraway but secretly fear it's Tom.

If we judge a novel by the reverberations it makes in future works, Gatsby has echoes down to the present day. I believe Holden Caulfied's voice comes more from Carraway than Huck Finn. A Separate Peace could have been written at all were it not for Gatsby. And even the greatest works of contemporary literature - I'm speaking of my own writing now - show Fitzgerald's influence. In Endless Corvette, when Wayne the Other Mechanic tells Jimmy, "You can't get something for nothing," Jimmy's response is pretty much, "Of course you can!" Gatsby gives an identical response when Nick says you can't repeat the past. Even the unfinished letter Earl's father left which Earl sees at the funeral, owes much to young James Gatz's list of resolutions. And the funeral missive in my book - not to put too fine a point on it - is a distant second to the one in Gatsby. Roy Mulvaney's letter is funny, pitiful, and naive, but Gatsby's journal is all that plus - I hate to say the word inspiring, but I can't think of another word for it. There's something majestic, even epic in his boyhood ambition.

Naturally, I allude to Gatsby's green light in Endless Corvette, but that doesn't amount to much. I allude to everything in that book; I steal like a thief in a land of blind policemen.

And if the test of an iffy scene - such as say, the bee chase in Corvette or the car wreck in Gatsby - is to ask whether the novel would be diminished or improved without it - then the book cannot do without even the carwreck. Unquestionably, the novel would suffer enormously without Gatsby's death, and even the corrolary deaths of George and Myrtle focus the attention wonderfully on the three survivors: Tom, Daisy, and Nick.

So yes, Gatsby's a masterpiece. Call it what it is, a masterpiece.

I still don't like that car wreck.

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