30 Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-four

Book that contains your favorite scene: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

(also, my favorite cover. I actually have a t-shirt version. Judge me, snobs.)

The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written, and most people have read be it for personal interest, school, etc. It’s also a pretty famous film, and is currently being remade with Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio, which I’m actually looking forward to. I won’t bore you with a synopsis, I’ll just get straight to the passage/scene:

He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was. . . .

. . . 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 sidewalks 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.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something — an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.

Christ, where do I begin?

Firstly, I like how balls-out this is. Fitzgerald is writing about a long-lost love without holding back on the sentimentality, yet it still manages to ring true. He hovers just before falling into the pitfall of purple prose and reigns it in with masterful control. While I appreciate subtlety and restraint, I also greatly admire writers/artists who take the risk and just go for it, hearts on their sleeve, %100 sincere. Of course Nick subverts Gatsby’s sentimentality, but the reader still feels the intensity of Gatsby’s compassion, and it’s real, not hackneyed.

Hemingway had this to say about F. Scott:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

A beautiful account of F. Scott’s prodigious virtuosity and his unfortunately enigmatic and inconsistent career. A combination of his early death and a tragic lifestyle both contributed to a body of work that dwarfs in comparison to an unreal talent. Oh well.

Secondly, I love the motif of ineffable truths and fleeting epiphanies that disappear just as quickly as they appear. The book is full of characters obsessively following effervescent symbols of truth, or at least something that will bring them peace: things that were once true but are now forgotten, or things that were thought to have existed but are now shown to be illusory.

This state of being attached to that which cannot be articulated permeats the tone of the novel creating a melancholic nostalgia, even if the reader knows nothing about the Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties. Appropriately enough, The Great Gatsby, like The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” is piece of art that everyone loves but struggle to express the particular qualities that make it so great.  If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it above all other books I’ve included in this challenge, even Ulysses.

cheers,

-B

p.s. Here is Kate Beaton’s take on it.

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~ by braddunne on August 30, 2011.

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