Friday, October 23, 2009

Book 37: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To measure the greatness of this book, one must resort to a kind of magic, a faux-science akin to phrenology, handwriting analysis or divination. These processes have all been used to catch criminals but that doesn't make them real. Some criminologists claim that DNA is the first ACTUAL criminal science tool.

If literature and American culture followed that same path, the DNA of 'The Great Gatsby' would be splattered all over every little damn crevice of the crime scene that stands for our communal memory. It is in the close to 27 poems I wrote that have a green light blinking off in the distance, it is in the way we respond to Robert Redford as a movie star which is linked by the evidence to Sundance and the independent film movement, it implicates Mia Farrow and by extension Frank Sinatra and Woody Allen, and it is clear as a bell in roughly every other coming of age novel you've ever read. In short, it TOWERS over the collected output of this nation.

I first read 'The Great Gatsby' in high school and it is a testament to my teacher Mr. Crothers that I can honestly say that I knew how vast the reach of those words really was. Mr. Crothers had insisted that we read the Bible before we tackled any modern literature because he claimed (and rightly so, I believe) that it is the source material for much of the finely tuned layers of meaning inherent in any good piece of modern literature. Of course, the same could be said of The Koran or Talmud or any other religious text that infuses modern culture with opportunity for allusion and cross--referencing.

Bottom line? 'The Great Gatsby' terrified me. It reminds me of the first time I heard 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and was shocked to realize that I was going to grow up and it was not going to be easy. 'Gatsby' is similar. It starts out like the promise of an immaculate suit and then sends waiter after waiter scurrying by with precarious glasses of red wine poised to stain.

I think of it when I see boats. I think of it when I hear of people in power who have life shattering moments. I think of it when I think of the Rhode Island mansion where they filmed it and where I would later have my Senior Prom. I think of the Bible. And I think of evidence, evidence that cannot be covered up, evidence that will continue to expose the book for what it is...

The apotheosis of American expression, perfectly mirroring the time it was created in and reflecting anew with each passing moment the bitter core of our collective splendid heart.

2 comments:

Tim said...

Amen, and again, amen.

But if this is #37, how terrified will we both be by the time you get to #1?

Brendan O'Malley said...

I don't even want to think about it! Maybe I'll lie and pick a Mitch Albom book so we can sleep easier!