Monday, January 26, 2009

The Great Gatsby

I'm currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I know this is the pop-culture equivalent of discovering that Darth Vader is Luke's father, but Fitzgerald is an astounding writer. Normally I don't hear the genius in the work of others. I'm told by my peers that such and such is brilliant, but I don't see it. I see big vocabulary, perceive theme like an unlocatable sound that bounces off walls, understand that I'm missing the metaphor, and always wish I were more perceptive. But this novel was written with me in mind.

I almost skipped it because I read a critique of Fitzgerald's antiquated use of dialogue attribution. And I see what he is doing and I don't care about that. He said quickly. So what? I'm learning that there are simply different tastes and no two pallettes the same, and some people have become too smart for their own good.

It's the way Fitzgerald uses light that floors me. Light brings the scene to life. How it shines on the edge of a newspaper (can't you just see that?), or illuminates a doorway.

Take this for example: For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened--then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

Does it get more perfect? It does if you read on.

The living backdrop is a character too.

"Oh sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls.

Wilson is colorless and bland unless I miss my guess.

His characters have traits that I recognize. Take this description of Tom:

Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body--he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat.

This got me thinking about my dad for some reason, which then became inspiration.

18 comments:

Toni Anderson said...

I haven't read it, and now I just might. Beautiful quotes. And I agree on the different palettes and people being too smart for their own good. Thankfully there are enough writers for everyone, and we can all have fun searching for those that speak directly to us.

magnetbabe said...

I felt about The Great Gatsby exactly how you describe your encounters with other authors. I just didn't see it as the masterpiece it had been described to me as. I've thought about going back and trying it again but then I think there are too many books to read, why reread something you didn't like much in the first place.

Scott said...

Toni - I certainly hope it will be worth your time.

Nat - I know exactly how you feel. I didn't expect to like The Great Gatsby, and I'm only just started with it. But for the first time since--well, ever, I find myself enjoying the writing purely for its beauty. My wife turned me on to it, and when I read a passage to her, she remembers it clearly. I guess I have spent so much time trying to describe people and places in writing, and wanting so badly to do it better, then I read those words. They are easy to gloss over, which I am apt to do. But I find myself stopping and rereading paragraphs sometimes ten times, trying to absorb it, imagining haven written those words. I think, he must have been looking at someone when he wrote that with a pen and paper in hand, and maybe I should do the same.

Tee said...

I read the Great Gatsby back in high school, but dang, I didn't remember it being that good. Wow. Thanks for sharing that, Scott. I may have to add that onto my book list to re-read for this year.

mr. schprock said...

I'm probably about due to read Gatsby again. I just hope I don't get nightmares of Dr. TJ Eckleburg's eyes ceaselessly staring at me like last time.

Scott said...

Tee - I'm pretty sure you would see it differently now. In high school the only book I could stomach was Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Mr. Schprock - Another great example! What an enduring image.

Natalie said...

So perhaps you are saying that F. Scott Fitzgerald is more of a writer's writer than a reader's writer.

For the record, I did not read The Great Gatsby in high school, I read it as an adult. There are lots of things I hated reading in high school that I have reread since and found much better with some maturity.

Scott said...

Nat - The high school comment was directed at Tee, just in case you thought I was talking about you. Sometimes I feel a little angry when I read something that everyone says is genius that I can't stand. I feel cheated.

And I love your succinct paraphrase of my overblown explanation. That about sums it up.

Beth said...

I've read everything F. Scott has written. I was one of the few who was like Benjamin Button's F. Scott's greatest short story! LOL I love the way he writes and started reading him voraciously when I was 18. My hardcovers of his work are well worn.

He was a genius and in my mind, he's the only truly romantic author I've ever read. Nicholas Sparks wishes he could write like that, which always shows me that modern critical success means nothing.

Oh, and I absolutely detest when I read stories (a lot of them are in contests) that have a well-placed "big word." My head always thinks, "They googled thesaurus for that one," but F. Scott had a flow. I think it came from living a life in pain.

Alan said...

In comics there's a current controversy that has divided a lot of the reading community on the matter of Grant Morrison. He writes stories using our superheroes that sometimes is described as "genius," and sometimes described as "drug-addled muck." People who love him seem to be able to come up with good reasons why they think he's a genius (extra layers of meanings, word plays, or nods to classic comics) whereas other who can't stand him say "Why do I have to work so damn hard to enjoy something I bought. I just want a story!" And then of each other, the Morrison-lover say the haters are just "lazy readers" while the Morrison-haters say his fans are "elitist snobs who claim to understand his crap just to sound smart."

I'm sure the truth to the whole mishugas is found somewhere between and I bet it applies to mostly all art and art fans.

As for me? I read "Wicked" on your recommend and loved it. I could afford to discover F. Scott. Hey, his middle name is "Scott"! How bad could he be? :-)

NYPinTA said...

I haven't read F. Scott Fitzgerald since they made me read it in High School. Maybe my teen angst and contraryness (word?) made me blind to how good it was. I know it did for Shakespeare, which I now try and read a little something of at least once a year. Just to read it without the taint of someone else expounding on how great it is to tick me off.

gel(Emerald Eyes) said...

Read this a long time ago, but it stuck with me. It's terrific that a description from this book has inspired you about your dad.

(here via K.Lawson Gilbert's blog)

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K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Glad you overlooked that critique and read Fitzgerald for yourself. :)

I love his stories. I haven't read any in a long time, however. I like that he lived with passion and wrote naturally with sympathetic insight. He had a fantastic literary style. Definitely the most influential writer of the Jazz Age!

Thanks for this post. Think I'll revisit some of his works.

Karen said...

I love this book! It's the eyes that get me...and that wasteland in betweeen...

Tee said...

Hey Scott - Just wanted to let you know that I re-read The Great Gatsby because of this post. I just finished it this evening and enjoyed it much more than I did back in high school.

Thanks!

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