Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Book Details:
Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Scribner; ZZZ edition (September 30, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743273567


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the classics of modern American literature for good reason.  Narrated by Nick Carraway, it details one summer in the lives of Tom and Daisy Buchannan and Jay Gatsby.  This short, quick read whose plot spans just one summer, encapsulates the modern American life.

The plot starts out slowly, detailing life as usual at the Buchannan and Gatsby residences.  Tom Buchannan keeps a mistress in the city, and Daisy, and everyone else, are well aware of this fact.  He does not seem too embarrassed about it, but Daisy is obviously unhappy with the arrangement.  Jay Gatsby, meanwhile, is Nick's wealthy and mysterious neighbor, fond of throwing large, bacchanalian parties every weekend.  Rumors as to his origin abound, but nothing is initially explained.

Through the course of the novel, it becomes apparent that Gatsby came from nowhere, acquired at least the appearance of wealth, and had a romance with Daisy prior to her marriage.  While he went off to World War I, she stayed home and eventually married Tom.  Gatsby has come to Long Island for the purpose of rekindling his relationship with Daisy, a goal which does not take him long to achieve.

Subsequently, Tom confronts Gatsby and Daisy, and the mysterious, possibly criminal, origins of Jay Gatsby are revealed in full.  In the aftermath, Daisy accidentally hits Tom's mistress with Gatsby's car, and the mistress' husband avenges his loss by murdering Gatsby.  Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy make amends and leave town for a while.  In the end, none of the avid party-goers attends Gatsby's funeral, not even Daisy.

After hundreds of pages of Joyce, The Great Gatsby was a breath of fresh air.  The precise language and well-developed plot were such a change that I managed to read Gatsby in one afternoon.  The novel was plot driven and thought-provoking, which made it difficult to notice the absence of puns and word play.  While Fitzgerald lacked the linguistic genius of Joyce, this was definitely a more enjoyable read.

The primary reason that this text endures, though, seems to be its take on the American Dream.  While innately depressing, I am sure that most of us suspect the novel holds a grain of truth.  Jay Gatsby worked his whole life to attain wealth so that he could have a relationship with Daisy.  He feted large groups of people, was generous to a fault, but he still did not quite fit into the elite social life of the Buchannans.  In fact, at his death, not even the woman whom he spent his life wooing came to mourn.  After years of hard, and possibly criminal, work, Jay Gatsby was left with nothing, "borne back ceaselessly into the past."

In addition, the following quote about Tom and Daisy seemed very poignant to me in this day and age:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

These are the people that we have slowly morphed into over the past century.  Gradually, people have been less and less willing to take responsibility for their actions, and our culture certainly encourages, if not commends, retreating into money and commercialism to avoid dealing with real life.  This novel is certainly a critique of modern American life, and a farsighted one at that.


Was this a good read?
Absolutely!  An easy to follow, entertaining, thought-provoking read.  The plot was well developed, and the prose was crisp.  I loved it.

Would I recommend it?
Yes.  To anyone and everyone.

Would I read it again?

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