I had to take a breath from quirky blog titles, and let this one remain as is. It’s that good. The second read of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby tastes like a slightly frosted, peach-flavored wine in North Carolina’s blaze of summer. The read in my junior year of high school resembled a Hi-C fruit punch cooler: sugary, junky, and lacking. What was the difference in the two? Years of mental make-overs, flourishing relationships, and reading plenty of other books. I haven’t read anything else by the man, but I’ll begin searching for his other work soon.
This brief novel is provoking and entertaining in a rare combination. The first-person narration is superb, and Nick as a character in the story works just as well. It takes talent for an author to accomplish this, as well as create a lovable narrator. Although he’s only the supporting character (or is he?), Nick’s refreshing logical and down-to-earth take on life and love makes you glad a man like him remains in the world. This is not a riff on Gatsby, either. Although tremendously self-centered (hello, married Daisy) and using his childhood as a crutch to live in lavish waste, Gatsby is also honest in terms of his desire and raw to the point of death. I realize that maybe one of my problems with reading this in high school was my excusing anything because a person was “completely in love.” Now that I’ve seen love as much more than a passionate affair, Gatsby doesn’t remain quite as forgivable. But he is disillusioned and savagely human. “Welcome to the American Dream”, Fitzgerald tells us.
Through poetic, satisfactory sentences and stunning, realistic dialogue Fitzgerald brings these social concerns into our vision. He gives you the apartments that reek of stale party alcohol, the giant cars meant only to impress and drive fast, the depth of heat and an abusive spouse, the brief but memorable accounts of underprivileged classes riding in a car and being criticized for marrying outside of their race, and Daisy’s cowardly, necessary return to life with Tom. He spends pages on the terrible way “friends” and “family” ignore Gatsby’s death. He asks you through Nick’s beautiful image of the docks, light and boats: “How does the past grip you? Where are you going?”
If I could answer him through my second trip through this book, here goes. “The past has taught me to scan these pages for evidence of racism or sexism, for classicism and lots of other –isms. The past has also taught me to empathize with Daisy’s careless maneuver in lust and love, to wait patiently for Gatsby to become himself, to breathe in the hot air surrounding his house and examine the fun that was danced and drunk. I am going to sail across the Sound many times, looking for redemption in children and career and intelligence. I am also going to look back on mistakes and disillusions, knowing that for every box of Hi-C cooler a bottle of Slightly Askew Peachie Keen sits chilled.