Here’s the cool thing about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: published in 1925, it so accurately reflects modern America that it could have been written in the 1980’s or after the turn of the 21st Century and, with the exception of a distinct lack of foul language and overt sexuality, no one would know the difference.
At its heart Gatsby is a love rhombus entailing multiple affairs amongst people that, to be honest, aren’t very likeable.
The titular character is a mysterious noveau riche New York businessman who throws great summer parties at his mansion in the pretentious suburbs, which is about the most anyone seems to know about him. We learn a little bit more as things proceed, but his vague ties to organized crime and how that may have played a part in his amassed wealth aren’t really explored all that deeply. It says a lot about the shallowness of Jazz Age “society” types that legions of people keep showing up to Gatsby’s house every weekend for his soirees even though they don’t know a damn thing about their host. These are folks who just want to see and be seen. Kind of like your typical Hollywood stars of today.
Gatsby has an agenda that we don’t find out about until midway thru the story, and things pick up speed from there and become vaguely reminiscent of a dime story crime novel mixed with morally ambiguous modern romance sans the blatant eroticism. We learn that Gatsby used to be in love with Daisy back in Chicago. Not coincidentally Daisy is now living just on the other side of the lake from Gatsby, who is apparently a stalker. Unfortunately Daisy is married to Tom. However, Tom is already in the midst of an affair himself with Myrtle, the wife of George, a local auto mechanic. I guess even in the 1920’s marriage vows meant nothing. Eventually Gatsby makes his presence known to Daisy and she falls for him…again…instantly.
The entire tale is told thru the eyes of Nick Carraway, who is Daisy’s cousin and befriends Gatsby. Nick is really the only character with any redeeming qualities, the one I’d be least likely to want to slap upside the head. He seems to get Gatsby and genuinely like the man, whatever his shortcomings may be. Nick is apparently dating Daisy’s tennis pro pal Jordan Baker, but their relationship is barely touched upon.
Once all the cards are out on the table things get bloody. Daisy accidentally runs over & kills Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s little yellow sports car. Since little yellow sports cars aren’t that difficult to track down a distraught George comes to Gatsby’s house and shoots him dead in his swimming pool before turning the gun on himself. All the sudden we have an episode of Law & Order or CSI. Daisy & Tom seemingly escape any consequences, and Nick is left to plan a funeral for Gatsby that hardly anyone shows up for.
And that’s pretty much it. I am not sure The Great Gatsby deserves to be thought of as one of the two or three best American novels of all time. However, it is an interesting commentary on the attitudes and lifestyles of the superficial, soulless, and egotistical affluent class and how, at the end of the day, their money, power, and fame cannot buy them the love & affection we all truly seek. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a talented wordsmith who writes a novel that is a fairly easy and entertaining read, and I am sure that in 1925 his story was edgy & groundbreaking. Unfortunately in 21st century America its characters are far too reminiscent of the types of empty-headed, out-of-touch, famous-for-no-reason people we see nearly every day on “reality” television and in the pages of rags like The National Enquirer or People, which would seem to reinforce the old maxim “the more things change the more they stay the same”.
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