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Book Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Nope, I never read it before. One of the great American novels and it has been under my radar my whole life. Sure I heard of it. Sure I knew it was a “must read” but if I didn’t get around to it in school, well, so many books and so little time kept it from showing up on my reading list. Until now. Spurred by another poorly done movie adaptation which I didn’t see, I decided it was well past time to find out about fellow Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great masterpiece.

Needless to say I wasn’t disappointed. According to Wikipedia, Fitzgerald wanted to produce

something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.

Wow, did he ever succeed. It’s a short novel, no words were added by Fitzgerald to make it longer. He kept it sharp, concise, poetic prose that flows from page to page, a stream of genius that describes an age long gone, but as sharp and contemporary as we can get. The mark of great literature!

Wikipedia quotes Sarah Churchwell who sees it as a

cautionary tale of the decadent downside of the American dream”. The story deals with human aspiration to start over again, social politics and its brutality and also betrayal, of one’s own ideals and of people. Using elements of irony and tragic ending, it also delves into themes of excesses of the rich, and recklessness of youth.

Journalist Nick Gillespie, though says it’s

about the breakdown of class differences in the face of a modern economy based not on status and inherited position but on innovation and an ability to meet ever-changing consumer needs.

In short it’s a well-told story of desires, dreams and disaster woven into the fabric of many lives. It is like standing on the edge of a great abyss about to open. We know it’s going to happen though we may not know how. Such grandiose dreams and unrealistic expectations covering depths of fear and despair can have no other outcome. Not in literature.

Fitzgerald makes us care about the story, but not the people. Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Jordan are not people we can like. They don’t want us to. They succeed. Even Nick, our narrator, is simply our surrogate to describe what is happening.

For me that may have been the ultimate tragedy of The Great Gatsby. People can be so lonely, empty, and inward that they never can find what they truly want and keep pushing it away even as they rush headlong toward it.

Which is why it is so compelling all these years later. Human nature, when taken over by such desires and thoughtless directions, hasn’t changed. Nick may long for the quieter life of the Midwestern heartland, but we know he won’t find it. That can be as much of a false ideal as the mansions on Long Island Sound that trapped Gatsby.

Reading this I realized that there are a lot of great books that I have never read. Classics. At one time I had thought about trying to read more of the ones I have neglected over the years. That might be a decent idea to think about.

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