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The Great Gatsby

I read F.Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” once a year, usually in the summer. I don’t remember when I began this literary tradition for myself, one summer more than likely as the story is set in the summer in a familiar setting—Long Island—in the 1920’s long before air conditioning. The ambience is sweaty and languid. Passengers on the train stick to the straw seats, a hot wind blows into the Buchanan house igniting the characters’ turbulent lives. Every page has a passage or turn of phrase to admire. And I always find something new: a foreshadowing I had missed, a plot connection overlooked. This time round was no different. I had downloaded the book onto my Kindle2 and read it straight through in a couple of hours. Where was I? On a bus, in the train, in the park. No, none of the above. I was in the book, a guest at Gatsby’s party, talking with Nick Carraway, the endearing peripheral narrator just turned thirty, on his overgrown front lawn about what had transpired in his neighbor’s house and berating him—how could you Nick?—for accepting Tom Buchanan’s invitation to go to the city to meet his ill-fated mistress. (Of course he had to accept this invitation, however seemingly callous. He is, after all, the person who tells the story and has to be in every scene in order to tell it.)

I also know that the book is not perfect. A masterpiece, yes, but not perfect. There is a paragraph that slips from past into present tense I had never noticed before, another that lists by name all the people who attend Gatsby’s parties that summer and goes on much too long. These flaws jumped out of my Kindle screen in high relief then disappeared with a click onto “next page.” The arc of the characters’ decline and/or evolving self-knowledge remained strong. The story and the writing have enormous force. Fitzgerald was writing his heart out.
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