(This review was originally written for my old Angelfire site, probably sometime in 2004. I stand by my less than glowing opinion of this overrated “classic.”)
Even though I’m giving this one the exact same rating as Tender Is the Night, overall I enjoyed Tender better and found it more convincing. (It doesn’t take away my issues with how it didn’t delve really deeply into the characters’ motivations, but at least we had a better idea in that book.)
I did like this book, though it was one of those books that you consider good and enjoyable, but not great (no pun intended). I’m far beyond the point I was in the past, where I automatically considered a book a classic just because a bunch of English teachers and some literary critics with more brains than sense have drilled it into the masses’ heads that it’s a classic.
After choking down A Farewell to Arms and hearing that most of his other books aren’t much better, if not just as boring and undeveloped, I’ve come to the conclusion that that “literary giant” too is overrated. What, some bigwigs proclaim it a classic and it takes away your critical thinking skills as well as the fact that it’s still badly-written, leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and lacks credible motivation for the actions of the cardboard characters? Though certainly I can see that Fitzgerald was a far superior writer to that misogynistic suicide Hemingway.
I really loved the descriptions of life and high society in the Twenties, though it didn’t delve as deeply into them as I’d hoped. I guess I need to read a longer book on this era to get all the great details about bootlegging, flappers, movies, fashion, social movements, etc. Though what was there was very good, and the prose is lovely. That’s not what I have a problem with in this book, this so-called “classic.”
First of all, who the hell is this bland Nick Carraway who’s narrating the piece? Why was he chosen? He doesn’t even do anything really important! Sure, he’s Daisy’s second-cousin once-removed and a college buddy of her husband’s, but other than that, why is he even there? It would’ve been better with third-person narration.
The title character didn’t seem all that great to me, and his role wasn’t as big as I’d expected. Just some self-made tycoon who throws lavish nightly parties due to his obsession with Nick’s cousin, hoping against hope she’ll attend one of his many parties despite the fact that they were involved five years ago and she married another man because she didn’t want to wait for him to come home from the Great War. And his beautiful house is right across the way from hers.
Can we say obsessed? She jilted you, and if she really didn’t love her husband, she never would’ve walked down the aisle, or she would’ve left him as soon as her real love came home. Gatsby made all this money in the hopes that Daisy would want him again if he were a rich man, since she rejected him because he didn’t have enough money.
Oh yes, and it’s perfectly understandable that as soon as they finally meet again, they become instantly just as close and loving as they were five years ago. I’d believe it if they’d been separated and been thinking of nothing but one another, but come on, Daisy got married! It’s not like they’re Penelope and Odysseus, apart for years yet stayed faithful despite the lengthy separation. (And yes, I know Odysseus was off banging other women after the Trojan War ended, such as Circe, but supposedly he was always true to her in his heart and not his phallus.)
Daisy’s husband is incredibly stupid when he takes Nick to meet his mistress, the wife of their friend George Wilson. And of course, before long everyone has found out about these seedy affairs, and things get really really messy. Too messy too quickly.
It would’ve been so more dramatic and believable had the events that follow taken place over a longer period of time. It would’ve made for some great whodunnits, but unfortunately, they’re all resolved way too quickly, and we don’t get any depth nor prolonged mystery. There should’ve been like another hundred pages to try to figure out whodunnit in each of these mysterious tragedies.
Who wants everything handed to him or her on a neat little platter instead of trying to figure the answers out on one’s own? The conclusion leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth and doesn’t really resolve anything, like the ending of Doctor Zhivágo or Tender Is the Night, for example.
There are also some anti-Semitic and quite racist overtones, like in the description of Meyer Wolfshiem and Tom Buchanan’s racist diatribe, about how Nordic types are the “master” race, which never goes unchallenged. It’s also interesting to note that there’s a woman named Jordan in this book, years before it was trendy to give girls very masculine names. Of course, she comes from high society, and it was probably done because it was a family name, not because it was trendy or because the parents thought it was a girls’ name simply because the name had been so taken over by girls that people didn’t know it was originally only for boys. But I digress.
It has its moments, but the ending sucks and ultimately we’re left with too many unanswered questions and implausible motivations. And who would guess that the eyes of the mysterious Dr. T.J. Eckleburg are actually the large eyes on a billboard? I had no idea until I’d finished the book and saw it pointed out. And these eyes are supposed to symbolise…?