Remember when I said I would be going on a short hiatus but would be back in December or something like that? Yeah, December turned into January, January turned into February, and March turned back into December again. Well, the season has officially changed (knock on wood) and I’m back. Just in time for the much anticipated (at least in my circle) Great Gatsby. I know this blog is supposed to be about the books that we should have read, but there’s no harm in mentioning the next best thing (movies), right? I know I’m guilty of doing this probably more than I should, but this one should be good. One of the things that happened during my hiatus was my decision to tentatively like Leonardo DiCaprio again. Relax, Leo lovers, I admit that I’m in the minority here. I actually liked him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, albeit felt his performance was overrated, disliked him in Romeo + Juliet, loathed him in Titanic, and it was all downhill from there. But then Django Unchained happened. His character was theatrical, syrupy, and ridiculous which seemed to fit how I feel about him as an actor, but loved the story so much that I truly believed in his performance as Mr. Candie. And now here we are, on the cusp of The Great Gatsby.
How does someone get through an English program without having read The Great Gatsby? When asking a friend if I could borrow her copy, I tried to recall what I did to avoid this book seeing as it’s such a key work in the literary canon. I guess reviewing the books that made my list when Carolyn and I initially started this project, I shouldn’t be surprised. Ultimately, I think it was by the grace of God and an evolved ability to B.S. that made it possible for me to get through the class that we covered TGG. This was the Golden Age of my academic career—I was able to read entire novels half-assed, yet still manage to grasp the theme and its place within literature. And write twenty page papers in 24 hours. Trust me, I’m not bragging. Probably anyone who reads this is remembering when they were able to pull this off too. And gen ed majors? This is technically the hard skill you obtain from the degree. However, ability to B.S. is like any other skill—use it or lose it. Unfortunately, this isn’t something I can do today. Case in point, didn’t I say that my first post back would be about the epic East of Eden? I did read of East of Eden, but I read it the same way I read it the first time—rushed and half assed. I love Steinbeck. In fact, I love him so much that I refuse to do a post on his magnum opus when I know I haven’t truly absorbed all of his wondrous prose and genius. Reading Steinbeck is like eating a bacon wrapped liverwurst sandwich on sourdough bread that has been dipped in batter and deep fried and then dipped in a hollandaise/mayonnaise sauce. No, I don’t mean gross, I mean rich and dense. So compressed and deep that it takes a truly devoted reader to finish. And finish gradually and in small doses. I will go back to East of Eden and I will savor the crap out of it when I’m in a less frantic place. And a place with no self-made deadline.
Thankfully, TGG is a nice substitute for Steinbeck. F. Scott Fitzgerald has the same keen eye for social awareness that allows for a perfectly written setting that captures the sparkly, animated vitality of the twenties. But like most writers, Fitzgerald knows it isn’t a story without some kind of tension or discontent. Nick Carraway is like a less whiny, immature Holden Caulfield. There is some overall dissatisfaction woven in with all the bourgeois glitz of the period. He and Gatsby are likely partners in crime and are perfect counterparts. Midway through the book, I realized just how much I missed in my first read. I recalled the point-of-view being analyzed to death in class, but didn’t remember talking about Fitzgerald’s careful balance of poetic observation and action. Each chapter ends in a quiet desperation. The setting is two-faced as is Gatsby and is buzzing with parties, drinking, and luxurious cars all while leaving the reader with an aftertaste of decadence.
I have big hopes for Leo here. His performance needs to be a gentle balance of extravagance and sadness. In TGG, we come to find that Gatsby may not be that great and is actually quite vulnerable. However, if I want to take into the theater what I took from the book, then I should probably be even more concerned with Toby Maguire’s performance. Will Nick come across as a dismissive a-wipe? Or will he be the sharp-edged observer who comfortably flies under the radar in the shadow of Gatsby’s magnetism? Only time will tell, but I do know this—The Great Gatsby is worth all the fuss and thankfully when it’s brought up in conversation again, I won’t have to B.S.