Writing about Gatsby to be Relevant


I’m going to write a post about The Great Gatsby because I feel I am falling into irrelevance and infrequency here on my blog and I just want to write something that catches my own eye. I always try and read blogs or the news but it’s as though anything happening anywhere is still less interesting than something happening to me. So instead I read fiction or I sit here puzzled by life or I bury myself in work. That sounds horrible but I am becoming a teacher so that means I cut out coloured paper or plan how to explain something simple.

So the new Gatsby movie was so much better than the last Gatsby movie, which I stopped halfway through. There’s something so bad about a movie following a book so exactly, like someone lost their imagination and then decided to make a movie. Though this movie quotes the book at parts, it strives more to reinvent the mood of the book, which is really what the book is, a mood. I didn’t remember the end scene after the first time I read it; I just remembered how I felt when I read the book. I read it in high school but not for high school and was forever after puzzled about why other high school students had to read it for high school. I couldn’t find the academic merit in it. It was so light; it was so easy. It made me feel so much.


(photo from youngtopublishing.com)

I had a similar reaction when I read The Sun Also Rises, which I think but am never sure is my favourite book. Somebody wrote this ninety years ago? Somebody became a great American writer for writing this? These books are my twenties though they’re written in the twenties. They are about nothing more than him wanting her and all the seduction, passion, wit, nostalgia and pain that comes with that. They are about alcohol and money and glamour and everything that is misplaced and desirable in your twenties.

It was at some point long after I started writing it that I realized I am writing the book about my twenties. The whole thing seems to lose a little hope when I admit this because I have another six years to go and so then does the book. But I’m doing it whether I want to or not. Being in your twenties is about a certain self-absorption that couldn’t possibly be overcome in a first novel. I can’t write about the thirties until I’ve gotten me out of the way enough. I’m obsessed with me and everything around me and me interacting with it. It’s still sexy, it’s still young. I still want things. It’s why Gatsby is relevant: people have gotten stuck in their twenties.

Think of the good music that’s coming out now. Think of the people who are running big businesses like Twitter and Facebook. Think of who is driving revolutions, good and bad. Think of who are the people who are getting hit in the long run in this financial crisis. It’s us! It’s all about us! At least when we’re involved. To me, it’s all about us. You might have turned thirty.

Gatsby is about wanting love and about losing love and every kind of emotion that comes with that. It gives a mood to that gnawing anxiety we feel. It even makes it fun. This movie was able to sync two generations together: people in their twenties in the twenties and people in their twenties now. A final warning to please read the book first before seeing the movie, for fear you lose some capacity for imagination or maybe just some cachet. Reading is really in right now for people in their twenties.







A Love Affair

I am reading The Good Soldier just in time for Christmas. The opening line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” told me I was in the right place. I always read sad books around Christmas. I had to stop reading The Book of Negroes at Christmas time a few years ago. I was cozied up in a cafe drinking hot chocolate and all I had brought with me was the worst boat trip ever.

I don’t explicitly plan on reading sad books at Christmas. I listen to the Christmas radio station all day and watch the same Christmas movies every year. I love feeling wrapped up in Christmas. Still, I can’t get myself to read to Christmas.

Ford Madox Ford’s book isn’t sad, really. It’s a character study, done by a man who just lately realized he hated his wife. It’s one of those books that starts with the description of a character who isn’t the protagonist. I love starts of books that do this, immediately admitting that the most interesting character isn’t going to be you. It’s why Nick Carraway voiced The Great Gatsby. It’s showing us Robert Cohn at the opening of The Sun Also Rises. It’s what Hemingway does in most of his books: he takes a back seat to better admire what he wants everyone to look at.

I just the other day shifted my first chapter so it could do the same. It won’t be that exact formula, as I no longer have a first person narrator (it became evident a few months ago that she couldn’t tell a story), but it starts with a character description. It starts with Gil, because it has become clear from my obsession with him that he is the most interesting character in the book. I am obsessed with him because I don’t understand him.

That’s what drives character-driven books. The need to look at someone closer, in only the way a novel can. My book is about the girl who hates Gil because she should love Gil and really needs Gil. This begs the question: why Gil? Why does he have this horrible name I now can’t change because that’s now just his name? Why is he so slimy but also so good, so so good?

I suppose my book is also the saddest book ever. It’s a love affair, and love affairs are the saddest things I know.



“But the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of a passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man is the craving for identity with the woman that he loves. He desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported. For, whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who loves a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. … We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.”


-Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier





They’re also the most important. If a love affair can “cut asunder difficulties” – or renew courage, or assure a worthiness to exist – then shouldn’t we be writing about love affairs and only love affairs? Shouldn’t the Romance section of Indigo be the most important? For Whom the Bell Tolls is my favourite war story, and it’s basically only a love story with a bridge explosion.


There was a point about six years ago that coincided with my first viewing of the musical-turned-movie Rent when I realized that Christmas, for everyone not a child, is about romance. So maybe the saddest story, the saddest love story, is completely appropriate for this time of year.


I leave you with a link to the story my family reads every Christmas Eve, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. I guess from a young age I should have realized it: Christmas is about falling in love with love.

“One dollar and eighty-seven cents…”