Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Great Gatsby and Me

A friend from back North came to visit us the past week and so I haven't had the chance to write in this blog. Or on my other stuff--my two half-finished travel articles and the rewrite on my novel. So now I haven't written anything in a week. I've got to get refocused and get back into this.

In any case--here's a little something. Back in college I read "The Great Gatsby" and was not impressed. I found it an insipid bore and for years I expressed my dissatisfaction with it. But lately I've been seeing it listed as people's favorites and thought I should try again. So I reread it this past weekend and had to ask myself a question--was I really THAT stupid back then? It was one of the greatest novels I've ever read. Fitzgerald is able to express emotion better than anyone I've ever read--and not pretentiously.

This made me look back at my life in a retrospective sort of way. Perhaps I had not yet lived while in college. I had never traveled and was still a naive young boy who had never even had a job. So much has happened since then--relationships, exploring the world, working. There were parts of "The Great Gatsby" that I felt perfectly summed up periods of my life--periods I had not yet lived the first time I read this. A perfect example is this one paragraph:
"...I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."

I lived in Paris many years ago, madly in love with a beautiful French girl. Due to circumstances mostly beyond my control I had to return to NY. We cried uncontrollably in the last few days before my flight. Lazing on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower one afternoon a loose page of a USA Today happened to blow over to our feet. There was an article of how long distance romances don't work. Very prophetic.
She looked at me with sad eyes and I tried to reassure her.
"Our love is strong," I said. "Don't worry."

As I walked up the ramp for my flight home(pre 9/11 security), I turned suddenly and ran back, kneeled down and kissed her beautiful, smooth belly button. She laughed while tears streamed down her cheeks.

"I will always love you and will always be yours," she said in broken English.
We wrote several letters a week (pre Internet days as well) and called frequently. Several months went by before we saw each other again. But by then the passion and intensity was gone; we were left with smoldering ruins of a great fire.

For years I've thought about writing our story but could never properly express it. Then I found that paragraph in "The Great Gatsby." It was like Fitzgerald had experienced the same. He must have in order to express it so perfectly. And it's not just that paragraph. There were several others that expressed my story equally well. Was I really that stupid back then? Or did I just need a lifetime of experience to appreciate its beauty?


Blogger Michael Tompkins said...

Fitzgerald has a way of doing that to people. But I don't think yours is an uncommon process. Words have no meaning until you understand the emotions they portray.

I thought the same thing by The Great Gatsby the first time I read it. The subtleties were well beyond my comprehension and emotional grasp. Now I think about getting a Ph.D. in Literature because I'm not talented enough writer to be the next Fitzgerald. So I'll be the next best thing, an angry scholar.

12:34 AM  
Blogger exley said...

I had the same experience with On The Road. I've always been into the beatnik era and was excited to read it in college. I couldn't even finish it. Then I picked it up again a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Sometimes you're just not ready. And I know others who've had the same experience with On The Road.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

For The Great Gatsby, when I read it, I re-read it for months. It makes any subsequent book seem like such hack writing.

I was 23 when I read it. I probably wouldn't have noticed the subtleties in high school, either.

1:08 AM  

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