The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Cover of The Great Gatsby

Rank: A+
No. Times Read: 3
Last Read: Summer, 2000

Author Name: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Review: When all things are said and done, I think The Great Gatsby is probably my favorite book.

The Great Gatsby is about an unfortunate series of events, or, perhaps, an unfortunate group of people placed in the wrong time at the wrong place. Narrated by a guy who can’t seem to get himself out of the background, The Great Gatsby is about a fellow named Jay Gatz (later changed to Gatsby) who can’t get the girl of his dreams, and so turns to a life of crime to obtain the fabulous wealth he believes he’ll need to get that girl. Once he obtains his wealth, though, he finds that his girl has already been taken by a claude. He tries in vain to get her back, and ends up dead, on account of being mistaken for someone else.

While there really could never be a perfect novel (too many words; too many possibilities), this comes close to it. Fitzgerald may not be as great a stylist or Ellison or Nabokov, and may not be as funny as Heller, but at least for this book, he attained perfection. The plot is not unfamiliar; the setting not spectacular; the text itself rather short. Yet, for this story, the writing is perfect: not a word is out of place. It’s short, yet rich; tragic, yet a joy to read. I like to think of it as the Casablanca of literature.

Let me add some extra-textual stuff which adds to my appreciation of this book. First, this was Fitzgerald’s third novel. His first, This Side of Paradise, was very much a “first” novel (largely autobiographical, young man coming of age type of deal), and achieved a great deal of success. He became an overnight celebrity, or as much of one as could be imagined during the 20s. He married Zelda, he had a child, he partied non-stop… It was quite a life. He followed up his first novel two years later with The Beautiful and Damned, which was kind of a let down, but not as much as his brief foray into Broadway, which put him into debt. He had to write his way out of debt, and so, in 1924, he left for France, where he wrote The Great Gatsby. The critics made an about-face and praised The Great Gatsby, but sales slacked, and so he stayed in France with the rest of the expatriates. The rest of his work would never equal The Great Gatsby, and after some tumultuous years with Zelda, and an unsuccessful Hollywood escapade, he eventually died of a heart attack, thinking himself a failure.

I always felt sorry for Fitzgerald. He could never get it together, in the real world. Further, his stories never seem to get beyond the level of people doing stuff. Yet, he was a good writer, and constructed well-organized plots. He didn’t seem to realize this, though, and always felt inferior to other writers—in particular, James Joyce. Apparently, at a party at which they both were in attendance, he proclaimed that he’d throw himself out a window if James Joyce said so. Joyce said that he shouldn’t. He even tried to make a little outline for I believe it was The Great Gatsby as Joyce did with Ulysses, even though it didn’t make sense to do so. In his estimation, there was no greater book than Ulysses. In my estimation, The Great Gatsby is just such a book (even though William Styron et al. don’t agree).

If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, I strongly recommend you take some time out to do so. It’s short, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better American novel, all-in-all, from start to finish. It’s not by any means impossible to get through (either because of verbiage or because it’s boring), and there are no throw-away paragraphs—not even any throw-away sentences. It’s a well-crafted masterpiece: a perfect book. This is the great American novel.

[Note: Ever wonder why every copy of The Great Gatsby has the same cover? First, it’s a great picture. Second, an artist was hired specifically to paint that picture for the cover of the original release of The Great Gatsby. It really does add to the overall effect of the novel.]

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