Monday, July 1, 2024

The Great Gatsby


World War veteran Nick Carraway segues into the sale of bonds to make a living and ends up settling at New York’s West Egg neighborhood, where he finds himself residing in a house right next to a mysterious millionaire’s estate. The owner, a certain Jay Gatsby, throws lavish parties all year round and Nick bears witness to the plethora of cars and guests who come for such occasions. One of such guests is Jordan Baker, an amateur golfer who flirts back and forth with Nick. Their first meeting happens at Gatsby’s residence, after he is finally invited by his neighbor, apparently as a ploy to use him as a bridge to his second cousin Daisy, a socialite flapper married to white supremacist Tom Buchanan who has a mistress of his own. Party after party, secrets begin to surface as well as hidden relationships that will definitely cause chaos and scandal should they be revealed.

I don’t recall having ever read this novel in high school English class. Even after the 2013 film that birthed one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s two popular raise-a-toast memes, I just knew that there was a novel and a movie, but I never really bothered to read or watch. Besides, why should I care about gazillionaires from 100 years ago? Aren’t we inundated enough with the shenanigans of gazillionaires of today from a much closer temporal distance? I never found an answer to this question, but I did enjoy The Great Gatsby. It’s a short 140-page read and the promise of revelation of Gatsby’s shady backstory was enough to keep me interested.

I never once bought that “old sport” pet phrase of his, which he repeats ad nauseam that it turns into a cringefest after the third or fourth repetition. There is something fake about this Gatsby guy, and the author is generous enough with his insinuations to lead you to such an assumption. It is effective, I should say, because it gives you a revelation down the line that you can look forward to. The whole bootlegging business makes a lot of sense, considering the prohibition in place back in those days. However, I was really expecting something darker and more mafia-ish. I was also yearning for more murder and deceit as a counterbalance for all the glitz and the glamor.

The murder, we do get, as we race toward the ending. The deceit, well, there is plenty of that to go around, sprinkled all over the plot. If anything, this novel just feels too short and abrupt. I would’ve wanted more backstory and scandal for an even more enjoyable reading experience. As for the Roaring '20s, it was indeed a different time, huh? Nevertheless, the blatant display of decadence is not really exclusive to that era. What makes it thought-provoking is the knowledge, in hindsight, that the Great Depression was just lurking around the corner. Perhaps they were all just taking advantage of the good days knowing difficult times were ahead?

Whatever themes this novel is trying to tackle, what stared me in the face and left an impression was that of class dynamics. Gatsby is filthy rich alright, but he is considered as nouveau riche. He doesn’t have the pedigree, the name, the status. He is just moneyed, but no matter how many parties he hosts, he will never belong in that exclusive circle. Of course, for most of us who will remain middle class for the rest of our lives, this is all moot. Even then, it’s interesting to see how even among the elite, there are still cliques and hierarchies. What a complicated society we all live in, no?

In any case, I might have to watch the 2013 film now. A musical is also currently onstage on Broadway, so perhaps the real reason I decided to read this novel is to set expectations for that theatrical reimagining. I’ve seen the trailer and it looks legit. It is rather unfortunate that Fitzgerald died thinking this novel of his was a flop which, in the beginning, it was. I wonder how he would react if he were alive now and see the many renditions of his original work in various mediums. Suffice it to say, The Great Gatsby has had the luck of ending up as a great American literary classic, a peek at a bygone era that we can relive through its author’s vivid narration.

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