THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have yet to read Fitzgerald’s third novel without pausing to covet the following passage.

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

This one sentence enlivens my senses and harnesses my soul for the duration of the novel. How does a writer achieve such mastery of rhythm and imagery? I’d like to believe it’s a talent cultivated over time and accessible to anyone willing to devote themselves to the task. Another part of me whispers what I fear; a special kind of inner sight is required and is out of my reach.

The awe I have for Fitzgerald’s descriptions draws me back again and again and each journey reveals more about the magic of writing.

Much like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nick Carraway is The Great Gatsby’s witness. But unlike Chief whose mental and emotional fog infiltrates the reader, Nick reports the action as a true eyewitness. 

I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me… 

Nick’s distance allows the reader to connect more quickly on a personal level with the characters within the drama. We make up our own minds about Daisy, Tom, Jordan and Gatsby rather than accept the filter of the narrator. Readers may argue that Nick is not objective because he presents each character as if through a kaleidoscope of color.

Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget…

Tom Buchanan compelled me through the room as though he were moving a checker to another square. 

But I say Nick’s descriptions are no different than someone describing the difference between a painting by Turner or Rockwell. Nick bares the essence of each character so the reader may slip them on and see how they feel.

Fitzgerald’s novel is said to capture the Jazz Age like no other. The excessive gaiety of the times wrapped in an endless flow of gin and sex is present in the lives of Daisy and Gatsby, and so is the loneliness. The need to escape into a relationship that provides more intimacy.

And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy. 

Perhaps my presence made them feel more satisfactorily alone.

Their eyes met and they stared together at each other, alone in space. 

Or the fear of never finding someone to truly share your heart is an aching pulse throughout the novel.

Thirty—the promise of a decade of loneliness…

The Great Gatsby exemplifies the power of What If, for this phrase is the driving force behind Jay Gatsby’s very existence. Every action within the novel is woven out of Gatsby’s desire to recover the moment in time when he was the most spiritually and emotionally alive—the time before the war, with Daisy. The romantic what if meets disillusion, a universal phenomenon, and the backbone of every great story.

Fitzgerald’s novel is a simple story made complex by the regrets, longings and flaws that make us human. And although Casablanca and Gone with the Wind may have the most famous closing lines on film, there has never been a more beautiful, haunting close to a book than the one from The Great Gatsby. 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Wrap yourself in the magic of The Great Gatsby.