Friday, June 03, 2005

The Great Gatbsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“You’ve read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books, you’re very well read it’s well known,” Bob Dylan snidely croons in Ballad of a Thin Man.

I’m not sure that there really is too much Fitzgerald that has withstood any test of time other than TGG. If any of the readers of this site have any suggestions for other works of his that are good (Tender is the Night doesn't count), please lemme know.

I wish I could go back and find whatever essay I wrote on this book back in tenth grade when I last read it. Whatever themes I regurgitated from my high school English class, I doubt I really got this book in any way. Ultimately now, I don’t see this as much more than a mild rebuke of the decadent partyin’ lifestyles of the upper middle class in the nineteen twenties, and a tale of someone who wanted one thing to the exclusion of all else.

Fitzgerald’s novella would likely have completely slipped beneath the waves of decade were it not for three things:

First, the book is short enough to be assigned as reading in high school and has lots of clumsy, overt symbolism that make it easy to teach.

Second, Fitzgerald kept good company, as is well documented in better books, like A Moveable Feast.

Third, his style is descriptive, but concerns itself so overly with unearthing what appear to be pearls of timeless wisdom that it’s easy to think this is a great book with lots to say. For example, the book’s closing line, impressively quoted to me from memory my Y-man when he saw me reading the book “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Sounds pretty deep. But for a book that addresses the way the past shapes the present and limits the future, try Robert Penn Warren’s fantastic novel, All the Kings Men.

In rereading the above, and skimming the battered HPB copy of Gatsby here on my desk it strikes me that the above comes across as a bit cynical, and probably unfair. Fitzgerald writes well. It isn’t his fault that his beautifully written little tragedy has acquired stature far beyond it’s desserts. It’s a good story. If it weren’t famous, I’d likely be raving about how much I enjoyed it, because I did.

Tangentially, if I were to bother to look any more deeply into Fitzgerald, I think I might want to start by focusing on what I’ve always heard rumored but never seen in print, that his wife, Zelda went crazy and completely fucked over his life. I think it might be fun to take a look at he and old Hank Williams and see if one could find some parallels between their creations and their damaged marital lives. I wonder if there are other good examples of this in the last century. Considering how screwed up so many relationships are, it seems likely. So reader, any artists whose crazy wives ended up becoming a dominant force in their careers?

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