Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review:The Great Gatsby

Let me preface my review by saying that filmmakers are VERY good at making trailers. Sometimes. I keep seeing the trailers for the upcoming film version of "Gatsby" starring Leonardo DiCaprio (whom I really enjoyed in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "Catch Me If You Can") and it looks exciting and flashy and I began thinking I would like to see it. My son expressed an interest, too. I suggested we read the book beforehand so we can get a feeling for what to expect. I'm glad I did. 

I did read this book some 20-plus years ago when I was in High School, but memory being what it is, I didn't remember much about it. So I went into reading it a mostly blank slate. Be aware there are spoilers in this review. I'm assuming you also had to read it for school. 

The book moves along quickly and is compelling enough, I suppose. It's told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, a neighbor-by chance- of the title character. I was struck early on in the story by how bland Carraway's character is. His storytelling is without passion, without emotion and flat.

Which is kind of a problem. Because he is surrounded by the worst of 1920's elitist society, and he appears to be without feeling about it one way or another. He doesn't quite fit in with them, but neither does he feel repelled or bothered by their scandalous behavior. When Tom backhands his mistress and breaks her nose, Carraway describes the event in mild terms and without any reaction or feeling on his part. It's as if he's outside, looking in on the events. And not terribly bothered by any of it. He basically shrugs his shoulders and moves on.

The story is depressing, for various reasons, and the characters have no redeeming qualities. Gatsby is childish, trying to live in a fantasy-land; unable to really see or handle reality. He has no real relationships, he creates himself as a caricature of what he imagines Daisy would like him to be, and ends up lonely and out of touch. He lives in a perpetual daydream. Alone, even when surrounded by others.

Daisy is the epitome self-centered, bourgeois materialism, and even she doesn't know what she wants. Tom represents the worst of masculinity: he's abusive, abrasive, selfish and racist. There are a handful of other minor characters that don't really register as interesting or enticing.

I did not enjoy this story. I was surprised by this-- why are so many students required to read this garbage? The 1920's weren't really like this, for the majority of common Americans. It does give a little insight into the world of the ultra-rich and corrupt at the time, I suppose. Maybe there's some value in that, but it's so dumb and the characters are so limited and bland and the story left me feeling depressed and annoyed. I don't think I've ever read anything else by Fitzgerald, but I don't see myself seeking him out again.

Maybe my problem is that I'm spoiled on the modern character-driven, emotive writing, on books that make my heart pound and my mind race and that include characters I love or love to hate. Or maybe some books that are considered "classics" are really just crap. I also hated "Great Expectations" by Dickens. But there are others I love. "The Scarlet Letter", "Little Women", "Macbeth"... and others. Hmm... I suppose that's a topic for another time.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it's short. It only took me a couple of days to get through, and that's only because I can't just sit down and read. I would have had it done in half a day if I'd been able to. But what a waste of an afternoon that would have been. And, no. I won't be seeing the movie.

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