08 May 2011

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Originally Published in 1925
188 Pages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Crohnie I know teaches a unit on this book each Spring, and as I'd still not read it I decided that this year I would try to read along with her class and participate in the unit.  Unfortunately, I had a very difficult time reading the last month or so.  It was very similar to what I experienced with James Lipton's Inside Inside last year, when it was difficult to concentrate and absorb what was on the page.  Obviously, this kind of impediment adversely affects the reading experience.

The premise is that Nick Carraway narrates his experiences as the neighbor of socialite Jay Gatsby, whose mansion is the setting for a revolving door of summer parties for anybody who was anybody.  Nick's cousin Daisy is in a loveless marriage to Tom Buchanan, and love triangles are at the heart of the drama in Nick's world.  The characters are largely self-indulgent users and exploiters, though there are times when their lifestyle seems tempting.  Think: Royal Pains, with Boris being Gatsby.  I had a hard time caring about them, save Daisy--and my connection to her is predicated almost exclusively as a native of the Louisville area.  (I was born there, spent my first year in an apartment there, and have lived just across the county line most of my life.)

We learn that Daisy was a social butterfly living with her affluent family near Camp Taylor, courted by countless enlistees.  She did eventually fall in love, only to have him sent across the world in service to his country on the eve of their nuptials.  Daisy's family balks at her insistence upon following this lover, and that was the moment where I gained an insight into her.  Even growing up decades after the setting--even the publication--of The Great Gatsby I know what kind of scorn and resistance she must have met in this community when she declared she was going to leave Louisville to follow an enlistee sent to fight in World War I.  I felt an immediate kinship with her, the romantic stifled by an unimaginative community and family.

Alas, even that connection was insufficient to keep me invested in this novel.  One complaint I have is that every chapter except VII felt self-contained to me.  That is to say, they were stopping points that did not leave me eager to resume reading.  Aside from the repugnant nature of nearly every character, I was also turned off by Fitzgerald's phonetic depiction of speaking voices.  Throughout the novel, "could have" is presented in dialog as, "could of."  I cannot abide such spelling.  What is particularly aggravating is that this is largely the extent of his attempt to convey a colloquial speaking manner and it comes off then as poor spelling on the part of the author as there are no other obvious indications that the characters are enunciating peculiarly.  Had Fitzgerald consulted me, I would have told him that he should at the very least presented "could have" as "could've" or even "coulda."  Sadly, the author did not seek my counsel.

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