Rereading Gatsby

The Globe and Mail

I usually spend my long weekends engaged in the honourable pastime of loafing aimlessly. But this past weekend, I had actual tasks to perform (about which enough said). So I decided on a bit of questioning of my own literary past. I decided to reread, for the first time in more than three decades, The Great Gatsby. For one thing, we had chose it as one of The Globe and Mail's 50 Greatest Books last year, and I wondered whether that wasn't overpraising it. For another, I wondered whether my tastes had transformed, expanded, or perhaps even narrowed. Or whether I'd find the book dated, sentimental.

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I needn't have fretted. Gatsby, it turns out, is not only Great, but also great. Packed within its 182 pages (in my old Scribner Library paperback), is a profound contemplation of America, nmot only in the novel's Jazz Age setting, but beyond into the present. F. Scott Fitzgerald (he coined the term Jazz Age) and who died at 44 in 1940 and whose literary output did not begin to rival his alcoholic intake, wrote a masterpeice. The prose style is sometimes deceptively simple, other times gorgeously poetic, though never remotely overlush. His quickly limned lifestyles of the rich and selfish are like Picasso three-stroke sketches. He manages to make Jay Gatsby both pathetic and a little dangerous. And all is told through the voice of Nick Carraway, one of the great, and most subtly realized, unreliable narrators in all fiction. The story grips; the passions of even the minor characters are fully realized. A truly great novel, and if you haven't read it, I envy you that delight-to-come.

mlevin@globeandmail.com