“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.”
One of the funny things about my experience with classic literature is that, for a long time, I hadn’t read a lot of it. Pretty strange for someone who studied English for five years of her life, but I was going to school at a time when a lot of the professors were trying to break away from what was considered the traditional canon and focus on other avenues. This was even a little true in grade school and high school, so I never actually read The Great Gatsby, a high school English class staple, until about six years ago. It’s astonishing how well I remember reading it, fascinated during the down town between guests at the pool where I worked, particularly captivated because I had recently been to Newport, filled with the lush mansions of the Gilded Age that provides a background for this great American classic.
I had really liked it back then, but I was surprised to find out how much I loved it on this second reading. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t distracted as I was the first go-around, but what struck me straight from page one was the incredible beauty of the prose and the complete tragedy of Jay Gatsby’s all-encompassing infatuation with Daisy Buchanan. Not only is the writing absolutely breathtaking, but the theme of the book hits you like a (spoiler alert!) yellow speedster going down the road much too fast. What I particularly love about it is that it seems to me to have sparked a bit of a genre, while at the same time, completely subverting what it was to become nearly one hundred years after its inception. Daisy is not the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl (I’m sure we can dig deep and find plenty of examples of the recurring trope well before the 1920s), but, in a way, she epitomizes it, in an era that ushered the sprightly, cheeky modern woman into the 20th century. But it’s all just a facade, a vaneer, and Fitzgerald does such a heartbreakingly good job at showing us the cracks in these idealized passions, the tension of reality never quite reaching expectations, and the needs to constantly have someone (usually in the form of Nick Carraway, our narrator) there because you’re too afraid to face things without an audience, backstage, when there’s nobody watching.
The fact that this book still resonates, and we’re only a decade away from marking its 100 year anniversary is a true testament to the strength of Fitzgerald’s writing as he captures a classic tale of false perceptions, the self-made-man, and the fantasies we build so high that they’re forever out of reach, even when we finally get what we think we want. I feel that the end is a little bit of a let-down, almost as if Fitzgerald didn’t quite know how to end it, but it’s still a gorgeous, moving novel. And, of course, now that I’ve refreshed myself on it, it’s time to finally get around to watching the Baz Lurhmann film, which, if it’s anything like Moulin Rouge! or his Romeo + Juliet adaptation, might make me explode from pure sumptuous happiness.
Books read: 003/100.