bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #60: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I haven’t read this book in about 7 years, so after watching Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, I was curious to see how it stacked up to the original book. And I have to say, Luhrmann did a pretty good job of maintaining the spirit of the story.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is a masterful writer. I could just disappear in his prose and never come back. The premise of the story is fairly simple, but the way it’s told is complex and beautiful and tragic all at once. Young Nick Carraway arrives at New York to eke out a living and find the American Dream for himself. He finds a small house in West Egg, a fictional borough, and reconnects with his cousin Daisy, while meeting his mysteriously wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Not all that appears to be good is so, and by the end, I was exhausted and disappointed, like Nick, by the ennui and shallow glitz of the wealthy individuals who peopled the novel.

Jay Gatsby is an interesting character to study. As a self-made man, he recreates himself and accumulates wealth in order to become the kind of man that will secure him the woman he was too poor to woo when he was a soldier. Yet we realize that Jay’s dream is crumbling and an illusion, much like the green light at the opposite end of the pier from which he gazes. The futility of his dreams seems frustrating, but it ultimately reflects what Americans collectively experienced at the end of literary modernism.

The Great Gatsby is an American classic for a reason. It depicts the dissolution of the American Dream in the face of war, of a money-driven culture, and of fading ideas of class and wealth. I will definitely be including this novel (and referencing the film) in many a class to come.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

Advertisements

Julia’s #CBRV Review #19: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

tumblr_inline_mfd6zzj8Sd1qfex7sSo this book was a bad decision. I’ve had nothing but love for F. Scott Fitzgerald ever since reading The Great Gatsby in high school. After reading This Side of Paradise, that love has all but dried up. Yes, I’m as fickle as Amory Blaine’s lovers, I’m bored with Fitzgerald and we need to go on a little break. Or maybe I need to reread The Great Gatsby to get the bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth. Fitzgerald’s redeeming factor is always his quality of writing, he knows how to make words work on a piece of paper, but if you don’t have a story to match, should you really put them down to begin with?

Unfortunately, This Side of Paradise was, for lack of a better term, boring. I read this book one week ago, ONE WEEK, and I had forgotten that I had read it until I saw it sitting on my chair. If this has been required reading in high school, I would have been pissed. I’m a lady of action, and unfortunately, that’s what was missing in this book. Instead we have our protagonist, Amory, go on holiday with his mother, fall in love, go to college, fall in love again, lose his fortune due to bad investments, blah blah blah kill me already.

00055kxb

I feel you, sighing Cillian Murphy, I FEEL YOU.

I spent the whole novel waiting for something interesting to happen and when it didn’t I just wanted my time back.

Continue reading

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #6: The Love of the Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald was working on a novel about Hollywood, The Love of the Last Tycoonwhen he died, of a heart attack, at the age of 44. The novel was unfinished — although he had sketched out the plot, he had only completed sixteen of his planned thirty-one chapters. It was originally published in 1941, a year after the author’s death, as The Last Tycoon, compiled by Fitzgerald’s friend, the literary critic Edmund Wilson, but in 1993 Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli edited and compiled what is now considered to be the authorized text, and reverted to what is believed to be Fitzgerald’s original desired title for the work, The Love of the Last Tycoon.

Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in 1937, where he not only wrote short stories to earn income, but also started working on film projects. He made (uncredited) script adjustments to Gone with the Wind and Madame Curie. Estranged from his wife Zelda, who had been in and out of mental institutions since the early 1930s, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and lived with her in Hollywood until his death. Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, and was in fragile health:

Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in the late 1930s. After the first, in Schwab’s Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion. He moved in with Sheilah Graham, who lived in Hollywood on North Hayworth Avenue, one block east of Fitzgerald’s apartment on North Laurel Avenue. Fitzgerald had two flights of stairs to climb to his apartment; Graham’s was on the ground floor. — Wikipedia

The hero of The Love of the Last Tycoon, Monroe Stahr, is a work-a-holic Hollywood producer, based on “Boy Wonder” Irving Thalberg, who Fitzgerald had worked with briefly and who also died young, at the age of 37. Like Fitzgerald and Thalberg, Stahr is in fragile health and has a doctor monitoring his heart on a regular basis. Stahr is a self-made man who has an innate understanding of how to get the best work out of people. His interest and influence touches all aspects of movie production, from choosing the appropriate director, to working with multiple screenwriters, to wrangling with union organizers. His whole life is work, until one night at the studio lot, after an earthquake, he catches sight of a young woman, Kathleen Moore, who reminds him of his dead wife. He is immediately smitten, and slowly starts to question how consumed he has allowed himself to become by his work.

Fitzgerald deftly sketches the 24-hour schedule of a studio boss, while also making him a thinking, feeling human being. The object of Stahr’s desire, Kathleen, is a little less clearly drawn, but that seems deliberate, as she presents herself at first as a woman of mystery, to discourage Stahr’s romantic pursuit. The story fluctuates between scenes involving Stahr in his daily life and the first-person observations of Cecilia Brady, the daughter of Stahr’s studio rival, Pat Brady, who was modeled on Louis B. Mayer.

The-Last-Tycoon

Ingrid Boulting as Kathleen and Robert DeNiro as Stahr in The Last Tycoon

Director Elia Kazan made a movie version of the novel in 1976, starring Robert DeNiro in one of his most engaging performances as Monroe Stahr. It is ultimately a little unsatisfying, a little unfinished, like the novel, but it is enjoyable to watch, featuring some great actors like Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum and Theresa Russell in key roles. The best scene in the film is DeNiro acting out all of the parts in movie for an author (Donald Pleasence) who just can’t understand how to write for Hollywood.

Stahr and his work, not just his potential romance, are so involving that it is truly tragic for the reader when the text stops abruptly. The very copious notes included in the volume clearly tell the reader where Fitzgerald was intending to take the story, but it is still frustrating to not be able to finish the journey with his winning prose. One wonders if his intentions would have played out as neatly as his notes suggest as Fitzgerald was known for re-writing and re-working.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about The Love of the Last Tycoon is that even in its truncated state it is still a wonderful novel. Monroe Stahr is an unforgettable character. And Fitzgerald’s glimpse into the inner workings of Hollywood resonate even today. A truly great read.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Rachie3879’s #CBR5 Review #18: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Image

For anyone living under a rock or perhaps not having grown up in the US where most of us encounter it in high school, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby tells the story of the handsome young millionaire Jay Gatsby and his attempts to recapture the lost love of Daisy Buchanan. We’re guided on this journey by Nick Carraway, a recent arrival to Long Island in the early 1920s who is both Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s distant cousin. What we encounter when reading Gatsby is one of the most famous tragic stories in American literature.

My book club decided to revisit this novel this month to coincide with the release of Baz Lurhman’s movie a few weeks ago. The last time I read this I was 17, so I’ve decided it still counts for the Cannonball Read (though I’m fairly certain there wasn’t really any danger in it not counting… I’m pretty sure there aren’t CBR police or anything. Are there?). I came to this really excited; my memory of Gatsby was that it was one of my most-beloved required-reading books. Rereading it 17 years later didn’t change my opinion on it at all, I’m glad to say.

I think many folks resist Fitzgerald’s most famous work; I can totally understand why they would – it’s one of the most popular American novels of all time and most of us are forced to read it at least once in our school career. However, I have always enjoyed melancholy, and The Great Gatsby is certainly rife with it. Some of Fitzgerald’s language is incredibly vivid and beautiful. Even if there weren’t more than a handful of film versions of this I’d have no trouble at all picturing the settings Nick describes.   I was using my marked-up and highlighted version from high school so I struggled to ignore all the underlined references to color and all the overt symbolism since I can just read for pleasure now.

Continue reading

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #5: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is considered one of the great American novels. It is certainly great, and quintessentially American. It can practically be read in one sitting, but that doesn’t limit the effectiveness of Fitzgerald’s economic prose. The story, set during a hot Long Island summer in 1922, is part love story, part morality tale, while also reflecting the post-World War I excesses of the priveleged set.

Jay Gatsby may be the focus of the novel, but the hero is its narrator, Nick Carraway, a 29 year-old man who has been drifting through life since the end of the war. Originally from the Midwest, he, like many, heads east to New York in search of direction — and something else — thrills, love, purpose? He isn’t quite sure. He gets pulled into the orbit of his wealthy cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her philandering, polo-playing husband Tom. They try to pair him off with Daisy’s professional golfer friend, the “incurably dishonest,” Jordan Baker, who leads him to his most significant friendship of the summer — his mysterious and exceedingly wealthy next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant parties that he never seems to attend.

As Nick gets to know Gatsby he learns that he and Daisy were once very well-acquainted. In fact, Daisy promised to wait for Gatsby when he went off to the War in 1917, but then turned around and married the more suitable (and monied) Tom Buchanan (who attended Yale with Nick) two years later. When the war was over a heartbroken Gatsby devoted his life to amassing a suitable fortune to both impress Daisy and launch him into the society he has always so desperately wanted to be a part of. But the New Egg and Old Egg where Gatsby and the Buchanans reside are strictly divided — new money and old money. Old money may attend new money’s lavish parties, but will never really accept them as one of their own, as Tom Buchanan effectively sneers when Gatsby claims that he and Daisy are going to run off together, “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out …”

Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is not just a romantic dreamer, but a personal embodiment of the American Dream. He is a self-made man, although the source of his income is shown to be through underworld connections. Gatsby has reinvented himself, from his low origins as James Gatz, a poor farmer’s son. His go-getter attitude garnered him connections to powerful men who wanted to help him — first a millionaire named Dan Cody, and later New Yorker Meyer Wolfshiem.

“Meyer Wolfshiem? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.”

“Fixed the World’s Series?” I repeated. […] “Why isn’t he in jail?”

“They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.”

As Nick gets to know more and more about Gatsby, his admiration for him is not tarnished, as it is with his party guests and even Tom and Daisy. If anything, he respects him more, as he tells him towards the end of the novel, “They’re a rotten crowd … You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together”

Fitzgerald writes beautifully, and his dialogue is so alive that it seems not just modern, but contemporary. There are jarring notes, however, mostly in the form of racist comments made by Tom Buchanan. Ethnic stereotypes also abound, further alienating the reader from the “beautiful” Daisy and her crowd. Some of the recurrent imagery, although evocative, is a bit overdone. Although many like to point out the number of times Gatsby calls someone “old sport,” I was bothered more by Fitzgerald’s need to refer again and again to “the valley of ashes,” and the omnipresent poster on the road to New York featuring the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

Eckleburg aside, there are some wonderful visual references, most notably the green light that flashes at the end of Daisy’s dock across the Sound from Gatsby. Gatsby sees it as a guiding light, bringing him back to his true love, and not for what it truly is, a siren’s call. The scene with Gatsby’s shirts, where he impresses Nick and Daisy with his extensive and expensive wardrobe, is a neat visual to tie in to the other overarching theme of the novel — money, and how it determines most of the characters’ actions and motivations.

“’Her voice is full of money,’ he said suddenly. That was it. I’d never understood it before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it … High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl.”

Gatsby knows that money is what drives Daisy, but he also hopes that there is great love, too. Daisy may love Gatsby, in a way, as one loves their youth, but she also loves Tom, and not just for his wealth. It is clear how she reacts to his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, calling him at their home, that he can hurt her, which wouldn’t be the case if she didn’t care about him. Tom knows this, but Gatsby doesn’t want to believe that Daisy can love both of them.

“I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past … I did love him once — but I loved you too!”

The Great Gatsby is a classic and timeless tale which features (mostly) unlikable people. Gatsby is the most sympathetic, because as hopeless as it might be, he has a dream of the future. Nick can only observe and then retreat when life gets too real, too messy. And Daisy and Tom are just like all of those selfish people we read about every day, who think that the world only exists for their own entertainment. As Fitzgerald, through Nick, so eloquently states,

“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.”

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Enhanced by Zemanta

Kash’s #CBR5 Review #17: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m making a sweeping generalization and assuming that everyone has read this, so I’m not including a synopsis.

Like many mainstream Americans, I rushed out to re-read the American classic to make sure I had a firm base with which to judge the film reboot. Only I’m going to be brutally honest here, I’m pretty sure I never read this book in high school like I was supposed to. As much as I love reading, especially now, I avoided assigned reading like Kirsten Dunst avoids a bra. So now I’ve finally read it, and I was underwhelmed.

Continue reading

Kira’s #CBR5 Review #15: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great GatsbyHere’s a fun fact: I grew up about 5 miles away from F. Scott Fitzgerald …’s grave, as he is buried in an otherwise nondescript cemetery in Rockville, Maryland, where I went to high school. Fun Fact #2: I never visited his grave, in part because at the time it seemed creepy but mostly because of Fun Fact #3: For the better part of two decades, I have been quietly scornful of Mr. Fitzgerald, because for the better part of two decades I have assumed that I really really did not like The Great Gatsby.

I suppose it started as one of those things that was mildly and inoffensively true, like maybe I hated having to read The Great Gatsby for school, or maybe I got a bad grade on a quiz about The Great Gatsby, or (most likely) I simply decided to dislike it for the mere accomplishment of being contrarian (I mean come on, is it really the best novel of all time?) But for many years, I told myself — and others; believe me, and others — that I didn’t really care for its rich white people plot, or its vapid characters. I suppose I said it so often (as often as The Great Gatsby comes up in daily life) that it became more of a truism than it ever was originally, like swearing you hate yogurt and then realizing one day that you haven’t actually eaten it in 15 years. Long story short, I owed Gatsby a reread, and I may have been a little (a lot) swayed by the prospect of seeing Leonardo DiCaprio play yet another poor scrappy white guy trying to scam his way to success. Continue reading