Stephen's Reviews > The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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May 02, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: easton-press, audiobook, classics-americas, literature, love-those-words, 1900-1929
Read from September 18 to 27, 2011

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Casual, self-absorbed decadence, the evaporation of social grace, money calling all the shots and memories of the past holding people hostage from the future that lies before them. Yes, Mr. Fitzgerald has nailed it and written one of THE great American novels.

This book was a surprise. I LOVED it and all of the deep contradictions swimming around its heart. At once a scathing indictment on the erosion of the American Dream, but also a bittersweet love letter to the unfailing optimism of the American people. Call it dignified futility…obstinate hopefulness. Whatever you call it, this novel is shiny and gorgeous, written with a sort of breezy pretension that seems to mirror the loose morality of the story. Rarely have I come across a book whose style so perfectly enhances its subject matter.

Set in the eastern United States just after World War I, Fitzgerald shows us an America that has lost its moral compass. This fall from grace is demonstrated through the lives of a handful of cynical “well-to-dos” living lavish but meaningless lives that focus on nothing but the pursuit of their own pleasures and whims.

Standing apart from these happenings (while still being part of them) is our narrator, Nick Carraway. As the one honest and decent person in the story, Nick stands in stark contrast to the other characters. “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” Nick relays the story of the summer he spent in Long Island’s West Egg in a small house sandwiched between the much larger mansions of the area. His time in Long Island is spent with a group that includes his second cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her rich husband Tom who live in Long Island’s East Egg. At one point in the story, Nick provides the following description of the pair which I do not think can be improved upon:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
In addition, we have Jordan Baker who is a poster child for the pretty, amoral, self-centered rich girl whose view of the world is jaded and unsentimental. Basically, she’s a bitch.

The most intriguing character by far is Jay Gatsby himself, both for who he is and for how Fitzgerald develops him through the course of the narrative. When we are first introduced to Gatsby, he comes across as a polite, gracious, well-mannered gentleman with a magnetic personality who our narrator takes to immediately.
He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.
However, from that very first encounter, Fitzgerald slowly chips away at the persona and peels back the layers of the “Great” Gatsby until we are left with a flawed and deeply tragic figure that in my opinion ranks among the most memorable in all of classic literature. Nick’s journey in his relationship with Gatsby mirrors our own. “It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.”

Through a series of parties, affairs, beatings, drunken escapades, the lives of the characters intermesh with terrible consequences. I don’t want to give away major parts of the story as I think they are best experienced for the first time fresh, but at the heart of Fitzgerald’s morality tale is a tragic love that for me rivaled the emotional devastation I felt at the doomed relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights. In general, Fitzgerald’s world of excessive jubilance and debauchery is a mask that the characters wear to avoid the quiet torments that haunt them whenever they are forced to take stock of their actions. Rather than do this, they simply keep moving. "I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others--young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life."

In the end, Fitzgerald manages the amazing feat of creating a sad, bleak portrait of America while maintaining a sense of restrained optimism in the future. Both heart-wrenching and strangely comforting at the same time. I guess in the end, this was a book that made me feel a lot and that is all I can ever ask. I’m going to wrap this up with my second favorite quote from the book (my favorite being the one at the very beginning of the review):
And as I sat there, brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out Daisy's light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
5.0 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

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Comments (showing 1-50 of 53) (53 new)


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) Looking forward to your review of this, Stephen.


Mira This has been on my TBR list for a long time and your review makes me much more excited to read it. Great review, Stephen.


Scott Marlowe One of the classics. Thanks for the review.


Jeffrey Keeten Great review Stephen. I have an 11X17 copy of the original dust jacket on my office wall. One of my favorite books and certainly one of my favorite dust jacket cover art.


Maciek I love The Great Gatsby, Stephen! Many people don't, but I do. I think it's one of the greatest love stories ever written, and also one of the most tragic. Fitzgerald's prose is simply wonderful and there is not one word that shouldn't be there. He really made an impression with this one and never topped it.


Stephen Mira wrote: "This has been on my TBR list for a long time and your review makes me much more excited to read it. Great review, Stephen."

Thanks, Mira. This one really surprised me with how much I liked it. I hope you have a similar experience.


Kate Fantastic review! Another one I need to re-read.


Stephen Jeffrey wrote: "Great review Stephen. I have an 11X17 copy of the original dust jacket on my office wall. One of my favorite books and certainly one of my favorite dust jacket cover art."

Thanks, Jeffrey. I never quite understood what the cover was supposed to represent until I read the book. Definitely one of the more memorable covers in literature.


Stephen Maciek wrote: "I love The Great Gatsby, Stephen! Many people don't, but I do. I think it's one of the greatest love stories ever written, and also one of the most tragic. Fitzgerald's prose is simply wonderful an..."

I haven't read anything else by Fitzgerald (though I now plan to) but I completely agree with you on the prose and the love story. As I mentioned in my review, it ranks up there with Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights for sheer tragedy.


Maciek Stephen wrote: "I haven't read anything else by Fitzgerald (though I now plan to) but I completely agree with you on the prose and the love story. As I mentioned in my review, it ranks up there with Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights for sheer tragedy. "

To that I can't realte since I haven't read Wuthering Heights, but I believe you. I haven't been crazy about any other Fitzgerald novels I've read. This one has everything. I enjoyed a whole lot of his short stories, though. You might want to try some. The first one I've read was "The Diamond as Big as The Ritz", which is enormously captivating and totally outrageous.
http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/diamond/...


message 11: by Bill (new)

Bill Great review Steve.

This book bored me to tears, but the fact that it was a required read in high school and my 17 year old self was more obsessed with girls and Led Zeppelin may have had something to do with that.

If I had submitted a review half as eloquent as yours I would surely have earned an A.


Stephen Kate wrote: "Fantastic review! Another one I need to re-read."

Thanks, Kate.


Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~ I have a copy of The Great Gatsby right in front of me, as I type this. I guess it's meant for me to read it today. Thanks for the push to get this off my "to be read" list. P.S. Great review once again!! :)


Stephen Bill wrote: "Great review Steve.

This book bored me to tears, but the fact that it was a required read in high school and my 17 year old self was more obsessed with girls and Led Zeppelin may have had somethin..."


I have had similar experiences with a lot of books I "had" to read as a child. For the most part, when I have re-visted them as I got older I have really enjoyed them.


Stephen Jenn wrote: "I have a copy of The Great Gatsby right in front of me, as I type this. I guess it's meant for me to read it today. Thanks for the push to get this off my "to be read" list. P.S. Great review once..."

Thanks, Jenn.


TK421 One of my favorites, great review.


Jason Koivu Great full, fleshy review, Stephen!


Stephen Thanks Gavin and Jason.


Kerrie I wish I had read the book you described in high school!


message 20: by Donna (new)

Donna excellent review. I've read this book about 5 times. I always stop to ponder the crates of oranges loaded into the kitchen discarded out as so many pulpless halves.


Stephen Donna wrote: "excellent review. I've read this book about 5 times. I always stop to ponder the crates of oranges loaded into the kitchen discarded out as so many pulpless halves."

Thanks, Donna. I agree about the reference to the oranges. Fitzgerald's use of imagery was amazing.


Marvin Why oh why have I not read this?


Stephen Marvin wrote: "Why oh why have I not read this?"

Until last week, I was asking myself the same question. Now, all I can say is that you really, really should.


message 24: by Mike (new)

Mike Kerrie wrote: "I wish I had read the book you described in high school!"

Exactly! Great review!


Stephen Kerrie wrote: "I wish I had read the book you described in high school!"

I've had the exact same thought about a number of "classics" I was forced to read when younger. As I go back and re-read them now, I am finding I really enjoy them (most of them at least).


Stephen Mike wrote: "Kerrie wrote: "I wish I had read the book you described in high school!"

Exactly! Great review!"


Thanks, Mike.


 ~Geektastic~ Seems like excellent timing to have read this book now, as everyone is so heatedly discussing the current condition of the American Dream. Not much has changed, really, except for a decided downturn in cautious optimism. I didn't like this book when I was forced to read it, several times, for various classes, but I appreciate it much more now than I did then. Your review was truly excellent; it got right to the heart of it.


Stephen Thank you, Amber. That is very nice of you to say.


Richard Derus I don't see the restrained optimism that you see in this book. It is a favorite of mine, but its bleak vision of Murrikin richness is all I retain. And share.


Stephen Oldfan wrote: "I don't see the restrained optimism that you see in this book. It is a favorite of mine, but its bleak vision of Murrikin richness is all I retain. And share."

If you look at the very last line of the book (i.e., the quote I used at the beginning of the review), I think that sums up Gatsby's optimism pretty well. I saw Gatsby as representing the belief that one can "reinvent" himself/herself out of whole cloth and will continue to believe (even if foolishly) that they can achieve their dream despite all the obstacles in their path. In Gatsby's case, this dream was ending up with Daisy. That was my take at least.


Richard Derus But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

My take on that line is tied up in the "dark fields of the republic" meaning the huge, grim wasteland of "flyover country" that Fitzgerald was harshly, though not pitilessly, skewering with Gatsby's character. A more hopeless, hapless, and small-souled persn I cannot readily conjure.

This is how I know the book is art of a high order...your basic optimism finds the positive reading, and my basic pessimism finds the dark, gloomy reading, and they're equally valid.


Stephen Oldfan wrote: "This is how I know the book is art of a high order...your basic optimism finds the positive reading, and my basic pessimism finds the dark, gloomy reading, and they're equally valid."

Very well said.


message 33: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Classic novel, classic review.


Stephen Ian wrote: "Classic novel, classic review."

Thanks, Ian.


Petertpc You make this sound really good.


message 36: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Petertpc wrote: "You make this sound really good."

Classic comment.


Sarah Stegall This review is almost as good as the book itself. Well done.


Stephen Sarah wrote: "This review is almost as good as the book itself. Well done."

Thanks, Sarah. That is very nice of you to say. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Marvin Stephen, just a check-in on my strange reluctance to read The Great Gatsby. It was my turn to choose a book for our book club (the June pick) so guess what I picked. Now I can't put it off any more. It was actually quite surprising to see so many of our little educated group has not read this yet.


Stephen I hope you like it, Marvin. I can't believe it took me so long to read this one either. I am now very glad I did.


Stephen Dania wrote: "I agree wholeheartedly with Sarah! Your reviews are too good!"

Thank you, Dania. That's very nice of you to say.


s.penkevich Basically, she’s a bitch.
YES! It's about time someone said that.

This is an excellent review, I think I liked it more than the actual book! Not that it's bad, I must admit I thought it was 'weak shit' in high school but my reread for a college course changed my tune. Then my prof pointed out Nick has a one night stand with a guy and I realized, 'wow, I need to pay more attention to books!'.

Oh and DiCaprio is apparently starring in a remake of this due out sometime soon. Should be interesting.

By chance have you read Fitzgeralds short piece 'Babylon Revisited'?


Stephen I haven't read that, s, but it is on my list of works to read by Fitzgerald. I have heard good things. By the way, getting ready to start Hunger, based on your outstanding review. I had never heard of it before your review, so thanks again for that.


s.penkevich Stephen wrote: "I haven't read that, s, but it is on my list of works to read by Fitzgerald. I have heard good things. By the way, getting ready to start Hunger, based on your outstanding review. I ha..."

Excellent, I hope you enjoy! It is definitely one of my favorites. There isn't much in the way of a plot, but it really pits you in the tortured mind of a starving artist.


Stephen I have I feeling I'm going to enjoy it.


Jonnie Comet Well, well said. Thank you. :)


Christine Great review. I was going to write one myself but you captured everything perfectly. This book is one of my top ten of all times!


message 48: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Hall I LOVED THIS REVIEW, THANKYOU


Andreina Vitto Love your review ! You should become a writer yourself


message 50: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary s.penkevich wrote: "Basically, she’s a bitch.
YES! It's about time someone said that.

This is an excellent review, I think I liked it more than the actual book! Not that it's bad, I must admit I thought it was 'weak..."


Ok, what chapter does he have the one night stand...meaning NICK? I missed it...it must be really subtle....clue me in Spenk.


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