As a youth, I read a lot of books. Hundreds upon hundreds adorned my shelves. Nor was I a stranger to the school and public libraries. Naturally, I have an odd sensation when people talk about novels with an assumption that they are part of a cultural literacy and yet, I have never read them. Specifically, when it seems that everyone read something in a high school class. Perhaps my fascination with Science Fiction and fantasy novels is partly to blame. For one of my high school English requirements I took a class which required Dune, Lord of the Rings, Out of the Silent Planet, and numerous short stories from 60s pulp.
The Great Gatsby fell in this realm of hearing the name repeatedly, but only having the vaguest notion of its content. April 2006 brought me a step closer when I inherited the book through an odd means that is normal to my current living situation. I took over a teaching position from a friend moving on to his next adventure. Commonly, our jobs are tied to specific living arrangements, so I was required to move into his apartment. Having no TV nor stereo, I wanted to buy a few of his belongings. To my surprise, he wanted to sell everything he wasn’t transporting as a lot: Gatsby was resting amidst the miscellany.
Since then, he traveled with me in my next two moves. Preparing for my move on the 17th, I decided I should read some of the books I keep toting hither and thither. Here are some of my thoughts on this “Great American Novel”.
Upon advancing through a number of chapters, I was having troubles identifying the relation between events introduced; almost as if I were reading two novels. Further I found it hard to identify with most of the characters: rich, vapid, course, and without direction. At points I even wondered if I should read the whole work: after all, just because a lot of people are intense about something doesn’t mean it is for me (i.e., Harry Potter).
Had I set down the book, I would have missed out as all of the bits tie together well as the story progresses and the characters make sense as part of the story.
Fitzgerald has a very amusing way to describe scenes and I find his sentences very ‘full’. Much like eating pasta with a complex sauce, leaving the tongue to ponder what elements went into the preparation. At times I found him making cultural or literary references, which seemed esoteric to me, as if he expected any reasonable reader to know them. In practice this could quickly become tiresome; however, he salted us with just enough to make me want to learn more and not so much as to write him off as an arrogant boor.
Critics have complained that Fitzgerald confused his geography. One example was having the “ash heaps” on Long Island rather than across the water. However, I had no trouble with this at all. Certainly it was no accident, as the physical location requiring passage on trips to Manhattan is critical to this tale. He has created a mythical world that is very like a bit (or a couple bits) of our real world. Almost like fantasy, but easy to grasp because of its connections to reality.
A few details of the ending seemed a little hasty or forced to me; however, overall I found it an enjoyable read. Now, where can I find a copy of the Lord of the Flies?