There can’t possibly be something left to say about this book. It’s been a keystone in the American education system since the 1960s, with literally millions of students reading and analyzing this book. To some degree, this is a testament to the timelessness of the novel, and I can’t imagine being an English teacher having to dredge this text year after year.
But I’m not an English teacher. I’m just a guy who skipped most of the required books that serve as the glue to our culture. And, as that guy, I was torn over this book.
On the one hand – the writing is absolutely awe-inspiring. F. Scott Fitzgerald is in rarefied air, here. The prose in The Great Gatsby is a thing of beauty.
Again, nothing new can be said about this book.
On the other hand, though, I know this story – even without having read it before. I knew it was a tragedy. I knew that Gatsby and Daisy weren’t going to see their happily ever after. I knew Gatsby was basically Bruce Wayne without the heroic alter ego, and that he threw these lavish parties for the benefit of the love he lost – hoping that the gross indulgence of fortune would draw her back to him. I knew this because this story has become so diffused through our culture that it’s become a key ingredient in baby formula. This ubiquity has virtually removed all mystery from the story.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate the book – because it is a truly magnificent work. The Great Gatsby is widely hailed as one of the greatest American novels ever written, and I can’t say that praise is unwarranted.
What does interest me, though, is reading about this novel – how it was written, how it was received, and how it’s been interpreted. Following the whirlwind success of The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald immediately began working on his next novel. He hoped this would propel him into the stratosphere of great American writers, but it turned out to not be a success. And though he did receive some praise from his peers (in the forms of personal correspondence), the reviews were mixed. Fitzgerald despaired at his legacy, and his career took a hit. He only published one more novel after The Great Gatsby, and it took him nearly 10 years. He died with this book being largely forgotten, thinking he would be relegated to the dust heaps of early 2oth century literature.
If he only knew that, nearly a hundred years after it was written, some random guy would be complaining that there’s nothing new to say about this book, because it’s been read and studied by millions of people.