While doing some solo driving to Massachusetts and back, I listened to the audiobook of “The Great Gatsby“. I have heard people flog this thing as one of the greatest American novels written. Some of my literary heroes have done things like hand copy it word for word so they could emulate Fitzgerald in their own writing. As the book concluded, I wondered, “What did I miss?”
The story is one of vapid materialism. The characters are shallow, attracted to the fantasy of high society life, and repelled by reality. The writing style, on the other hand, is beautiful. Each sentence has enough substance to have it’s own gravity. There is symbolism poignant enough that each one bashed me over the head and made me pause and ponder for a moment. I don’t think I have ever had a situation where the style did nothing to endear me to the story.
I was so disturbed by this feeling, I reached out to friends in moments where the Vermont mountains were not smothering cell signal. These are the people in my life who I knew had read Gatsby and would help me see the light. Each person I communicated with has passion for great writers and each of them did not love Gatsby yet they appreciated Fitzgerald’s style. One pointed out this book was once 600 pages and the author pared it down to 120. There is no fluff, no wasted words – a lesson I receive repeatedly.
I dodged this bullet in High School. I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have had the maturity to handle it. I have made several attempts reading it, each time getting a little farther hoping something interesting would happen. It took me being alone trapped in a car to get through the book. It moved me, but not in the way I have experienced it moving others.
I’m less distressed about the book, but I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Your comments will be eagerly consumed.
My bestie keeps talking about “Travels with Charlie” by John Steinbeck, so I think I will take that on next.