The Great American Novel…or something…

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. I hardly need to tell you why I read it, as I often do at the beginning of reviews. I’ve never read, it’s been burning a whole on my bookshelf for a while, and John Green did a series of vlogs about it over the summer that I purposefully didn’t watch even though I wanted to because I hadn’t read it yet. So, Christmas break (after doing a lot of no-thinking-required reading) seemed like an appropriate time. Oh, and the new Leo movie is coming out before too long, so you know I had to read it before that happened.

The basic plot points are as follows (for those few of you, like me, who somehow missed reading this in high school): Nick Carraway is the narrator. Young and somewhat rich (from inheritance), he buys a house on Long Island, situated next to millionaire Jay Gatsby’s mansion. On the other side of the bay lives Nick’s second cousin or something, Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. They’re super rich. Nick attends various dinners/teas with the Buchanans and Daisy’s friend Jordan, who he sort of dates throughout the novel. Meanwhile Gatsby throws extravagant parties every weekend, and Nick finally goes to one. Soon he and Gatsby become friends and he learns that the fact that he lives next door is not a mistake. Gatsby has been pining for Daisy Buchanan for the last five years (they were in love before he went to war), and he needs Nick to set up a date. And then a lot of roller coaster stuff happens with Nick often being the third wheel to multiple affairs, people mowed down in the street by hit-and-runs, and bullets being shot at the wrong people. It’s very messy.

It helps that I live alone, so the fact that I read the majority of this out loud to myself (yes…using voices…) was a lot less embarrassing. (I’ve always found though that reading somewhat dense or confusing stuff out loud helps enormously with my comprehension. I think it must be the dual tracks of both seeing and hearing it… All I know is that I would never have made it through as many Shakespeare plays as I did. Or sonnets for that matter.) But, as I’ve been told by lots of people, there’s a reason this book is frequently assigned in high school. It’s the kind of book you have to read with a class. Or a book club at the very least. It needs to be discussed. And I feel like I kind of missed out on a lot by reading it as a solitary person.

Here is what I did get out of it though: Fitzgerald is so very purposeful about his writing. I was drawn in by his subtly, his foreshadowing, and, yes, his symbolism.  More than a few times I looked back to previous passages to re-read something I wasn’t sure if I had caught before but had a gentle impression of. The variance of his pacing is methodical, too. At times the parties seem to drag on for an eternity, but then the violence at the end is so quick, you will definitely miss it if you aren’t paying attention. And by the last chapter, like Nick (the narrator), you’ve come to care about Gatsby without really being sure of why.

So while I feel like some of the actual meat of the book was lost on me, I still really appreciated it. I’m glad I finally read it. And although I still think Grapes of Wrath is a much better “Great American Novel”, I’m okay with this being up there.

2 stars

Apologies for the rambliness of this post. No excuses.

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One thought on “The Great American Novel…or something…

  1. Pingback: 2012 Challenges Summary: BA’s Off the Shelf Reading Challenge « Bookish Ardour

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