When I was fourteen or fifteen, I tried reading The Catcher in the Rye. Alas, ye millions of Salinger fans, my chin fell to my chest and the book thudded to the floor. American classics often have this effect on me … Willa Cather? Gah. Hemingway? Gah. Steinbeck? Haven’t screwed my courage to the sticking place yet. Perhaps someday I’ll develop a taste for these celebrated men and women, but for now, I’ll love the one I’m with: namely, British classics.
All that to say, I listened to The Great Gatsby this week, every nerve steeled for a Catcher repeat, but glory be, five minutes of his mahogany prose jerked me awake. Fitzgerald can write!
[She] held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)
I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.
The subject is bleak, yes, but somehow the rich tones of his writing lent a depth to otherwise depressing events. Even if I couldn’t care for any of his rotten characters I was in love with the prose itself. The Great Gatsby won’t be appearing on any of my Lists, but I hope the influence of Fitzgerald’s mellifluous pen will be seen in my own novel.