Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Great Gatsby

I just finished reading The Great Gatsby for probably the third time (same, if the blurb on my copy is accurate, as T.S. Eliot!) but the first since I’ve turned older than the narrator, Nick Carraway, who at thirty, says he’s, “five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”

That makes me 25 years past the age I can engage in self-deception of that sort but not nearly too old to appreciate Fitzgerald’s masterpiece once more, which left me, at its final unforgettable passage, like Gatsby’s father upon viewing his son’s dead body, “leaking isolated and unpunctual tears.”

I’m not entirely sure why I found the novel so affecting this time around; I think it’s the powerful sense of longing it evokes for an unattainable romanticized past; and in drinking it in, I felt layers and layers of that, not only through the nostalgic melancholy of the characters in the story, but also by recalling the other times in my life I’d read the book and mourning their passing, as well.

My father was a Gatsby fan; he liked Fitzgerald's restrained lyrical style much better than the stark journalistic prose of Hemingway and so reading the book brought up for me how much I miss my dad, especially right at the outset when Nick says that he and his father have “always been unusually communicative in a reserved way,” a characterization I’d like to think applies to my own paternal relationship.

It’s also the case that now, being old enough to recognize events I’ve lived through are clearly of another era—video from Vietnam, for instance, can look as ancient as WWII footage—while still feeling that they occurred only yesterday, I no longer consider the novel’s setting dated.

The world in which Daisy, Nick, and Gatsby live is made present, and the novel’s final words ring ever truer: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."


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