Sunday, September 14, 2008

Her Voice Is Full Of Money

I have just finished "The Great Gatsby". What a marvelous work.

This is my first reading of this. Okay, all of you stop gaping in wonder. That's how classics work from time to time...some books just get by you. I've been meaning to read this for the last..oh...thirty years. I have finally done so.

. . . One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees--he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.

I swear when I read that prose I wanted to applaud. But the beauty of the writing, the lyrical use of description (the incomparable milk of wonder)paints astonishing images and at the same time sets up metaphors that weave in and out of the theme.

The characters here are complex.

The tragic Gatsby, in love with a woman who can never really love him back; a woman so shallow that she can be described by a few words: "Her voice is full of money." God. In that sentence, placed where it is in the book, we have unquestionably established Daisy. With those words the author has driven a needle through her, pinning her into place. A specimen. And Gatsby, pursuing her, is persuing a dream which can never find fruition. This shell, though noble and poetic, running from one past, pursuing another, has nothing to offer the future. Gatsby has seen his finest hour and it is behind him.

This novel, a tragedy of unfulfilled love, empty dreams, shallow relationships,
pathetic decadence and punished materialism deserves the accolades it has
received over the last several decades.

This is one of the greatest American novels ever written. I am embarrassed to only be reading it for the first time at age fifty three. If you haven't read Gatsby, then grab a copy, sit down, and read.
But read interactively. Don't just follow the words and expect to be entertained.
Read and question. Explore. Stop between paragraphs occasionally, and think about what
you have read. I don't mean plotting, I mean structure, language, description.

Here's to Jay Gatz. And to Daisy, where ever you landed.


Lisa said...

I think we all have a list of classics we never got around to reading. I may be one of the only women alive who's never read Jane Austin. I am so glad you made time to read this one. I loved it too.

Stewart Sternberg said...

lisa,I want to read Jane Austin. Or at least more Jane Austin. There are other authors I need to reread. "Farewell To Arms" and "The Sun Also Rises" deserves another visit, as does "Bleak House", "The Pickwick Papers" and "David Copperfield". Sure, I've read these but I don't remember them. Classics Unremembered...sounds like an upcoming post.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree. Gatsby was a very fine work.

William Jones said...

Stewart, pass over the pages again, keeping an eye on how Fitzgerald uses metaphor and simile. He has an unusual play with the language. The first trip to the house includes quite a few clever images that tend to go against the grain of logic. It is worth the effort.

Travis said...

Regrettably, Gatsby was ruined for me in high school. I run screaming from any suggestion that I try it again.

Lana Gramlich said...

Ironically, I'd been considering rereading that lately. It was set in my old hometown & I barely remember it from the blur that was jr. high...

Lana Gramlich said...

BTW, you REALLY need to update the e-mail address linked to this account. Every time I post a comment I get a mailer-daemon in my mailbox.

spyscribbler said...

The description, "Her voice is full of money," is awesome. I know instantly what it sounds like! The Great Gatsby seems a good book for our times.

Have you read Les Miserables? There are some clunky translations. I prefer the one done by Norman Denny in the Penguin Classics edition.

It really speaks to me, today. I was surprised. If they'd released the 1998ish movie now, I bet it would have made a much bigger ripple.

I love forgetting classics I loved, because then I get to read them as new. So wonderful!

Vwriter said...

What a lovely read The Great Gatsby is, although in some ways, it reminds me of Detroit politics.

There were fascinating letters exchanged between Fitzgerald and Hemingway on Fitzgerald's work that, as I read through them this last week, actually enhanced my empathy for the man who produced this great American novel.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, thanks for the agreement. Everytime someone agrees with me a goblin gets his fangs.

William, I think I will review it. I'm thinking about teaching it. We'll see.

Trav, come back from the dark side. It's okay. A lot of water under the bridge since high school.

Lana, thanks. I will check out the email thing.

Spy, I am going to do a post called "Forgetting The Classics".

Rick, there is something almost poignant in your response. Regarding letters between authors: do you think some day someone will be gathering together the emails that pass between you and I?

Vwriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vwriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vwriter said...

Well, I think they already published our first exchange of emails years back under the title The Screwtape Letters.

Vwriter said...

By the way, folks, the deleted comments shown on this blog were not censorship- I just made a few spelling errors and had to bury the evidence.

Jon said...

Gatsby? I reread it at least every five years. And it's always new. Updyke with flair (and I love Updyke.)
And, yes, the classics often slip past. I've never read Treasure Island.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Rick, you complete me.

Jon, I wish I hadn't waited so long to read this. But now I have fodder for another posting

valdemar said...

I read TGG when I was quite young - early 20s - and probably missed a lot of significance as a result. As a youngster I also went through most of Conrad's work - a great influence on Fitzgerald. Wonder if I could re-read them now I'm in my mid-forties?

Stewart Sternberg said...

the wonderful thing about growing old is the awareness we have..the rotten thing is the awareness we have.

Manny said...

what a nerd!