Monthly Archives: May 2010

G is for Gatsby

G can only be for Gatsby–as in Jay Gatsby, as in my favorite novel of all time since I first read the book in high school, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald cannot be a more different writer than me, and cannot have lived a more different life, but it is not the things that are similar to me that I love most in life. I love my quiet, big picture, intrepid, irreverent, even tempered, tall, mathematics-inclined, scientist, engineer husband. I love my boisterous, rule breaking, front-of-the-crowd, flirtatious, not-afraid-of-change, best friend. I love Berkeley because it challenges me to be different, and because it comforts me for being different (in my little pocket of Berkeley, it’s even okay to be Republican; not that I am one).

Gatsby is the American Dream–its seductive nature, its possibility and its rotting underside. He is a character who lived with infinite hope and who is the ultimate Romantic, who collected his fortune for a love that was not so much real as it was imagined in his mind. He is the man who sits at the end of the dock, his arms outstretched towards the green light.

Gatsby is the Jazz Age of the 1920s, a time period with which I have been obsessed for two decades. It has wrought my aesthetics–for I love Art Deco. It is a time period that partied hard without disregard for the possibility of a fall that did come a decade later.

Gatsby is not so much different from my own perspective. In so many ways, I understand Nick Carraway, the observing narrator of the book; I grew up in the 1980s, another “decade of excess,” albeit one clothed in padded shoulders and acid washed jeans instead of flapper dresses and marcelled hair. I have been a bystander to great wealth, mystified and amused and intimidated and scornful and seduced by things that are “full of money,” whether a voice like Daisy Buchanan or the lustre of fabric on a haute couture dress or the burnish of tarnishing silver. I have watched this wealth disappear; I have watched people grow from the terror of money torn from them, and I have watched people wither and die with a shriek after money has gone away.

It is not much different from my mother’s family–she was once wealthy, and then the War came, and the money was gone. She and my father raised me to never covet money, because they had seen the addiction.

Gatsby is careless people.

Gatsby is a beautiful world with danger underneath–women like moths fluttering to the light in their party dresses, as “in his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.

Gatsby is tragedy. Gatsby is a car. Gatsby is that car luring the love of your life into its passenger seat and then its driver’s seat. Gatsby is a vehicle for destruction and death. Gatsby is materialism but materialism gone too far.

Gatsby is consumerism, as described, “Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.”

Gatsby is a relatively short novel, one that on a craft level, I look upon with awe. F. Scott Fitzgerald told eons in only a few lines; when Gatsby, showing off, throws dozens of fine and beautiful shirts on a bed to which Daisy cries at their beauty…well, that speaks worlds about the two characters. I have watched people do the same–show off their closets. I am conscious to never cry.

Gatsby is beautiful language. Gatsby is that last beautiful and mystical line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time. I wish I could write a book like that.


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