Friday, May 10, 2013

A Letter to F Scott Fitzgerald: Why I Love the GREAT GASTBY

Scott dear-

I first read GATSBY when I was seventeen. I have no idea what we said about it in class-- it was senior year and springtime and it had finally stopped snowing and my English teacher was, while an intelligent woman, rather hideous to look at and even worse to listen to and so mostly I did neither. Self-preservation and all that.

But GATBSY stuck in my head anyway, testimony to your writing and the brilliant editing of one Maxwell Perkins, arguably the greatest editor of the 20th century. Pardon me for that writer-geek moment, but you have to praise greatness when you see it and both of you were genius in a way I will probably never be, but that's okay. (briefly, let me interject here that I said just this on someone's FB post about Gatsby the other day and someone else commented that it was odd to praise an editing (of all things!) because all that said was that you were praising what was NOT in the book-- to which I couldn't even respond because it demonstrated this wholesale lack of understanding of what editing a novel is all about... but that's another story.)

Back to you, Scott. You published GATSBY when you were just 28 years old. But it was old enough to understand what drove-- and still drives-- America. Old enough to understand dreams that we strive for but might never achieve. Old enough to understand the pull of money - both old and new -- and the corruptive influence of the same. You knew how simple and easy it was to slide the slope toward moral bankruptcy. You wrote a book -- God bless you, F. Scott Fitzgerald-- that is forever contemporary and current because we haven't changed one whit. Not one. You gleefully and thoughtfully scoped out the landscape and put in the Eyes of TJ Eckleburg and that damn wonderful green light and a cast of characters who are all unlikeable but mesmerizing. Perhaps the only truly 'honest' person in the story is poor doomed Mr. Wilson. And you did that word by word, image by image, in this tightly composed 48k word novel that is probably the best of the 20th century and possibly beyond.

So many phrases linger in the back of my brain, not the least of which includes: They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

God, Scott!! That line. That beautiful line!

Truth? I despised a lot of the American lit I was required to teach when I taught junior English once upon a time. I mean seriously -- Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans is a thing of beauty. James Fenimore Cooper's clunky prose with all that moccasin sneaking and branches snapping and whatever it was that I refuse to remember-- that's something else and not something fun. And Scarlet Letter-- well actually I like Hawthorne. But sixteen year olds aren't ready for a story where the characters are motivated by guilt. They shouldn't be, really. Wharton was okay -- but not that insufferable Ethan Frome where the happiest moment is when they bash their sled into a tree-- on purpose!-- and live life as cripples. Cause you know, Edith Wharton was trapped in a wealthy but unhappy marriage and that was a metaphor. Which you probably know, since there's this great story about her being rude to you once, I think. I need to look that up. I'm a lousy academic, Scott. that's why I write novels now. Age of Innocence was better, but I digress.  Scott, it was GATSBY that got me through. Because even if the students didn't read -- and often they did not, which depressed the hell out of me but made sense because as I said at the beginning, who reads anything willingly in the late spring?-- I could talk about what you did in this book and bring it to them and hope that it would stick and they would come back to it and see what was in there.

I suppose you say it best at the end-- what an end! God, Scott!
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

All of which is to say, the husband has promised that we will see Leo play Gatsby this weekend. We're going to the regular one, not the 3D. In case you are interested.


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