(A novel in progress)
I sat in two different cafes escaping the Internet so I could race through this book. First, at Cafe Capriccio in the sunshine, laughing out loud at parts, talking to a neighbor about it. He had read it 30 years prior. When I admitted I was laughing, he was surprised. “There’s a dry wit, I guess.” He had been reading some slender classics too- Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World.
My impression nowadays is that high school (or my ability to understand in high school) diminished certain historical and cultural factors. For post-traumatic stress novels I think of Mrs. Dalloway, not The Great Gatsby, but Jay Gatsby’s life after the war could be interpreted as a long justification for the return of the horrors of mechanized war and mass death on foreign soil, and his unreality regarding women, trying to relive the past, the gaucheness, the moral swamp. Then, women got the vote, they shed the corset, they crossed barriers, they drove places and recreated themselves. Myrtle is the emancipated woman, frowned on by the narrator as brassy and false, she’s recreating herself and plundering the liberties and riches of the world like “a fat kid likes cake” (thanks 50 cent). So Jay Gatsby is the hero, and Myrtle is the anti-hero. But they’re both loving, absolutely loving, the modern era with its excess and lack of rules.
I’ve decided to switch up the genders. Jay Gatsby is a woman- Betty G. She’s a newcomer, false backgrounds but honest to the core. Myrtle, the brassy mistress, is going to be a bi, boyish, tomboy girl who leaches on Daisy Buchanan’s character, which in my novel is Paul- a kind of shy early internet inventor, who manages to be at the center of things through no real effort of his own. I love the way FSF describes women, but he falls apart at men. I think it’s his real love for his wife Zelda, and her ephemeral social butterfly beauty. Trying to put that in for a man is going to be the biggest challenge.
Cafe number two was Cafe Divine, and I sat outside and managed to plow through a lot of chapters. Luckily the book is short. Waitress there, who I’ve known for years it seems, also really enjoyed The Great Gatsby. Despite the bad reputation most high school books get, this one seems to be well loved. My insights at this cafe were more about the complexity of the marriages and affairs in the book. I think that’s a weak point. I love the race and class stuff in the book, though one scene where Jay and Nick drive by a “limousine” of blacks is just so difficult to read. There his usual strong perceptive impressions fall flatly into the mistrally, blackface, stereotypical crap. This is the time of Harlem Renaissance, of Their Eyes Were Watching God, of amazing literature and poetry, but of course in an experience that he can’t jump over to- cloistered into his own world, which is interesting in his writing about lack of limitations, he (unknowingly?) shows his own. He makes fun of the Aryan Movement with the portrayal of Tom Buchanan, but can’t quite get out of his own, a middle class white Minnesotan that went to Princeton and aspires to greatness, and his pretension shows, but I still applaud the attempt. Because with Jay he feels he “can go anywhere,” and anything can happen, and it’s this trespassing of boundaries that emblemizes the Jazz Age and the Internet Era. I finish my sandwich, the cappuccino, pay the lady and leave. A book you can read in one day is brilliant.