“And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.”
This is the only one of my reading intentions for 2012 which I’m currently able to fulfil: Wallace’s read-a-long of The Great Gatsby. Having struggled to pick up a copy from the library thanks to the Christmas/New Year closures, I’ve finally found an e-copy and got cracking. The read-a-long is up to page 90 (50%) but I’ve already got so much to say at 25% that I thought I’d only catch up one week this time.
I was a little put off by the first page, in which Carraway pronounces himself as one able to reserve judgement and thus an unwilling receptor of strange men’s confidences. Nevertheless I persevered and I’m so glad I did.
What strikes me most is Fitzgerald’s (hereafter FSF) use of tiny detail to convey huge amounts about his characters. Tom’s brutal nature is handed, pre-captured, to the reader when he pronounces upon the dominance of the white-skinned race. Daisy’s depression is encapsulated in her words upon hearing she has given birth to a girl:
“‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”
I’m expecting a dramatic suicide from Daisy. Her friend Jordan Baker seems a facilitator for facts at present (Tom’s infidelity, a vehicle for Carraway’s social ease at Gatsby’s party) but there is clearly potential for a side storyline here.
Of course Tom is vile. He is bullish to his college friend, openly cheating on his wife, shows no interest in his daughter, and beats his mistress. Wallace pointed out that during the Roaring Twenties, in which time period this is set and written, there was a very specific set of circumstances contributing to social norms. Both the passing of the law of prohibition and the enfranchisement of women in 1920 clearly influence FSF, given the flowing champagne in “glasses larger than finger bowls” and strange treatment (thus far) of women.
FSF has a beautiful and tender way of writing which I didn’t expect based on the first page; Carraway seems pompous and dry before he starts his narrative. Thereafter he softens and is bleakly or off-handedly amusing:
“Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe – so I decided to go east and learn the bond business.”
“I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.”
There are occasional moments of pretentiousness, with which I will swiftly lose patience if they come back, but so far I’ve glossed over them:
“As I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.”
I’m still a little confused by moments where FSF seems to have got distracted, or decided to abandon the accepted method of storytelling and abruptly move to his next idea: Tom’s breaking of Mrs Wilson’s nose, and the strange, dreamlike recollections of Carraway after he rides down in the elevator with Mr McKee are quite disconcerting and I don’t know what to think quite yet.
Anyway, I’m intrigued and loving TGG. I’ll be catching up to pace with the read-a-long asap!