Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Call It Gatsby Because I Don't Think It's Great

I'm listening to the Great Gatsby Soundtrack, and while I haven't seen the movie yet, I'm diggin' this.  But Baz Lurhman's soundtracks usually don't disappoint.  (Though I fucking HATED the Cardigan's "Lovefool.")

I've heard mixed reviews about the movie and I'm pretty okay with that, because I have very NOT mixed feelings about the book.

You'd think being an English major, I'd love (or at least appreciate) all the "greats," the canon fodder, if you will (If you get that joke, please try not to groan too loudly.), but no matter how hard I try, I cannot convince myself to enjoy Gatsby.

I first read it in high school and remember being disappointed.  My teacher had seemed so sure we would all like it, and since I was a budding English major who often liked the literature the other members of my honors course did not, I fully expected to be swept away by the roaring twenties.  I found the book lackluster and uninspiring.  (So much so that I didn't even remember the ending, years later.  I mean, you usually at least remember who dies, right?).

But that was high school; I was young and callow and ignorant and naive and lacking in taste and all those other things we blame for the judgement of our youth.

Even though I went through three and a half years of undergrad and four of grad school, I was never again assigned that particular text.  (And why would I be?  It's assumed everyone had to read it in high school, and I never took a course specifically over the twenties or Fitzgerald or any theme in which the piece would fit.)  It wasn't until I saw the first teaser trailer for Lurhman's Gatsby that I decided to give the book another chance.  I'd come a long way since high school and had a much better appreciation for literature and its complexities.  Surely I'd discover the genius that earned this novel a permanent place on the shelves of English majors everywhere.  I'd read it and then shake my head over yet another example of me not knowing what the hell I was talking about in my teenage years.

So I re-read it; my favorite thing about the book STILL remains how nice and short it is.

You can go ahead and stone me or berate me for not truly "understanding" the brilliance of the book and its representation of a very particular time in our history, and how "of course you react that way to the characters, YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO," but I don't really give a shit.  The book didn't captivate me in high school, and it doesn't captivate me 10+ years later.  Honestly, I'd rather read scholarly criticism about the story, ad nauseum, than read the book again--it is that disappointing to me.

I've never read any other Fitzgerald (which my Kindle and I plan to remedy at some point), but I have read some of his contemporaries who DID manage to lodge themselves into my literary heart--namely Hemingway, but I like a bit of Eliot too--so it's not like I reject the period itself.

It's actually rather difficult for me to put my finger on what exactly makes me so "meh" about this book ( I'm not willing to torture myself by combing through it slowly).  And I really did hope that my second reading would be an enlightening experience, as it has been before with other books.  I didn't particularly care for Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or Heart of Darkness the first time I read them either, but a persistent second reading remedied that.  I experienced something similar with a couple of Wes Andersen's films, Super Troopers, The Matrix, and Young Frankenstein.  I accept that sometimes I need to see or read something more than once before I "get" it.  (I have a Master's degree, not a MENSA membership.)

But I do not get Gatsby.

You can tell me all about the tragedy, the gilded-agedness, the sign's eyes, and the goddamn green light; it's not that I don't "get" the literariness of it--it's that I don't like the damn book.


  1. I agree completely. I, too, read it in high school and was not impressed. I, too, reread it this year before the movie came out. It's still...rather boring.

    I "get" it on a literary level--symbolism, theme, social commentary and all that jazz (pun intended)--but I don't understand why, exactly, it's a "classic".

    I find Fitzgerald's "Tales from the Jazz Age" to be far more enthralling and interesting in terms of analysis--his style, I think, is better suited for short fiction. Why isn't that collection more widely read? Why isn't it a "classic"? Why didn't we, as lowly high school know-it-alls, have to slog through "The Jelly Bean" instead of "Gatsby".

    By the way, you're correct about the soundtrack--it's fantastic! I thought the movie was great. It was very true to the text and offered up a visual feast (as is expected with Baz Lurhman). The way the screenwriter framed out the film to account for the book's narrative style was inspired and fit beautifully into the culture of the text.

    The Gatsby movie is Great. The book, not so much.

  2. I'll put "Tales from the Jazz Age" on my to read list. Considering some of the issues I have with Gatsby, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Fitzgerald comes across better in short story form.