Lileks on Gatsby

I’ve always rather liked The Great Gatsby, because I find Fitzgerald’s prose far better than any of the other Greats of the Roaring Twenties, especially Hemingway, who reads the way sawdust tastes, and Faulkner, who seemed to think that Henry James wasn’t quite loquacious enough. F. Scott never forgot that writing serves the story.

However, I can’t argue with this:

I don’t hold Gatsby as some sort of Iconic Figure of the times. I never felt any sorrow for Gatsby, because Daisy bored me. Yes, yes, I realize that she was supposed to represent something, just as he was, just as the light across the water was, just as the big enormous eyeglasses represent Fate or the prevailing moral sense or conscience or whatever you please. It’s a good book. It’s a great book. It spoke to the dreams and fears of a society that was suddenly flush and young and bent on fun. It was a Cautionary Tale. It channeled the romantic flush of one’s early twenties into a story that mistook those passions for tragic signifiers of the human condition in general, and the American experience in particular.

That’s just it: Daisy’s voice is full of money, and that’s about it. It’s not just that she’s a bad person; there’s no there there. She does not act, nor engage, nor say anything of note. She is an object, a Golden Fleece with one two many Jasons in the hunt. The nice guy loses. The end.

But will I see the movie with DiCaprio? Probably. It can’t be worse than the Redford version, which is indeed “gauzy and inert”. I’ve rather liked DiCaprio’s work of late, from The Aviator forward (Revolutionary Road excluded). But the story has that touch more ambition than its structure can carry (how meta), which is why it always feels murdered at the end.


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