Disclaimer: Unpopular opinion to follow. If you love this book, then just don’t read onward. Literature is subjective, so everyone is going to have their own experience. Also, SPOILERS may occur. No promises.
Well, gee. I think somebody replaced my version of The Great Gatsby with a plotless, melodramatic story that is completely lacking character growth and development. Imagine my surprise after having waited 37 years of my life to pick up this supposed gem only to find that it’s a bit less shiny and polished than pop culture led me to believe. The writing is as self-indulgent as the characters, which I believe is what rubs me the wrong way, after a spell.
I confess, I was initially captivated by the frivolity and mystery and excited to see where it would all go, but then the story devolved into basically nothing. The whole thing became quite tedious, after the initial introduction, but on a more positive note, this “Great American Novel” is quite short, which is definitely a mark in its favor when it comes to classics that just don’t quite cut it (and yes, I’m looking at you, Anna Karenina).
I mean, sure, on some level I completely understand why people have endlessly dissected this novel, but at the same time, I also feel like a Great American Novel shouldn’t require so much analysis and dissecting, especially one so short and seemingly straightforward. I’m sorry, but no writer thinks, hey, after people have pulled my story apart and examined it from every possible angle, maybe then they’ll realize they should love it!! Woohoo!!!
I’m supposedly American, so in theory, it should appeal to me in more ways than just being a momentarily interesting character study about a very flawed and misguided man who thinks that by having money and acclaim, that he’ll end up getting everything he needs to be happy. Oh, shoot. I just heard myself saying that sentence in my head and everything clicked. So actually, never mind. That is totally American. I’ve just somehow disproved my own point simply by typing it. I guess I have to take it back now, so as a concession, I’ve upped my stars from 1 to 2 for this novel, since it actually is American. See? I can be reasonable.
The problem here is that it should have clicked with me while I was reading the actual story, not after I’m trying to explain what works for me and what doesn’t. I don’t care what anyone says, good literature should deliver its messages in the moment, through the story, not two weeks later after you’ve endlessly discussed it and tried to figure out what is so great about it.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy thinking about a good story long after it ends, or even that I don’t enjoy reconsidering my ideas and opinions. I definitely do. I just want to be sure I’m thinking about it because it had such a strong impact on me, not because I can’t understand how so many people claim to love a story that has so little depth.
Oh, crud. I just thought about that last statement for way too long and disproved myself again. People. This is not my best book reviewing day, because this supposedly is the Great American Novel. And we definitely do have some issues in this country with depth. In fact, there’s so much Gatsby frivolity just on Facebook that I can’t even stand to go on there. As a concession to having disproven yet another of my points, I’ve just awarded back a second star, moving this from 2 to 3 stars.
Here’s the thing: I definitely don’t hate this. I just don’t really love it. As far as good stories go, almost nothing is fully addressed in a way that is satisfying, or even useful to the story. Even the most basic questions that should be inherent to the storyline–like why in the world is he so obsessed with Daisy—are never answered honestly. I mean, she’s about as exciting and as genuine as fake flowers from the nearest dollar store. But I’m supposed to get invested in that idiocy? And then, what? Find it all tragic later on? Good riddance.
Come on, people. Her most emotional moment is when she goes a bit crazy over some shirts. Really? And we don’t even get an explanation for why she goes so crazy over some shirts. But then, we’re later supposed to believe Gatsby is so torn up over the girl that he—oops. I had to stop that thought in case of spoilers. I know I left a warning about spoilers above, but I still dislike them in general.
I totally understand that the majority of characters are supposed to seem frivolous and shallow in this story, which is actually a very nice contrast with the MC. See? I actually can acknowledge there are some interesting things going on in this book. In fact, I think it has a great starting point, which is what leaves me so disappointed that this read like a rough draft instead of a final novel.
I think if Fitzgerald would have rewritten it another time, or even two (maybe three), then he would have found an actual plot, a bit of pacing, and some actual character development, which would have resulted in a more honest story. Then this quaint period piece of a character study could actually have become something truly great that people would read, admire, enjoy, and understand, without being forced to do so (probably most typically in school by teachers at least three times their age), and without all the overthinking and dissecting, as has occurred even here in my review.
Because that’s my version of The Great American novel. The one that I can give 5 stars to automatically. Not this situation, where I gave it 3 stars only because I talked my own self into a confused stupor about why people might love this.
It’s a good starting point, and hey, I get it. Writing is hard. So 3 stars for effort, but my actual overall enjoyment of this novel is still at 1 star.
Book 103 read in 2018