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The Great Gatsby

Long Island

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
First Published: 1925, by Charles Scribner’s Sons

If ever there were a book about holding on to the past, The Great Gatsby is that book. How my heart goes out to Gatsby every time I see him reaching toward that faraway green light across the bay! The light of Daisy Buchanan, the light he’s kept burning all his life. But this book is about more than reaching back. It’s also a beautiful, harrowing, and detailed picture of The Jazz Age, a story about the tenacity of love/obsession, and not least a story about class warfare and resentment.

Fitzergerald is a master of style and metaphor, and my favorite trick of his is the creation of explosive description by way of casting aside the literal meaning of words. Take this sentence for instance:

The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound, was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

The moon’s reflection is a triangle of scales, rippling like the surface of a fish skin, trembling as if it were human. Accompanying the movement is the music from Gatsby’s party, pelleting the lawn with moisture. The banjos are dripping! Only Fitzgerald could turn music into raindrops so convincingly.

Here again, he maintains his watery theme, transforming moonlight into something damper—something capable of saturating clothes:

A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor.

And here, he levitates Tom and Daisy’s massive, foreboding house:

The Buchanan’s house floated suddenly toward us through the dark rustling trees.

I also love Fitzgerald for the relentless details he provides, details that transport you back to that roaring time and place. He plays Three O’Clock in the Morning for us, “a neat, sad little waltz of that year,” which dates the story to 1922; and lets the saxophones wail all night at Gatsby’s parties, “while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers [shuffle] the shining dust.”

3 Comments

  1. Pam wrote:

    Wow! Nice commentary, Jon! It was a deeply moving book. Each character seeme d so desperate and Nick Carraway just seemed bewildered. The movie really brought it to life, more than I thought it would. The party scenes were done especially well. I’m so glad we decided to watch the movie.

    I hope you don’t mind if I share the link with my book club members (tiny bookclub; just six of us).

    Pam

    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  2. Jon Michael wrote:

    Thanks Pam — the movie is incredible too, one of my absolute favorites. And those party scenes are spectacular, especially the music. It is one of those few movie adaptations that actually does honor to the book, and I think it will forever remain a classic because of that.

    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  3. Loretta Darley wrote:

    Oh, Fitzgerald loves winding, garden-path sentences. He likes to begin a sentence with one idea, person, or location and end in a completely different universe. Because of this, he draws amazing connections. Sometimes, you have to read sentences over and over again just to make sure you get what he was trying to convey. The Great Gatsby is truly and amazing read whether its your first or fifth time!

    Friday, July 31, 2009 at 4:48 am | Permalink

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