Continuing our series of reviews of the top 100 novels of the last 100 years, let’s move near the top. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby checks in at number 2 on the list. This wasn’t the first time I’ve read the novel, but it might as well be. I could remember almost nothing about it from my high school days, except for a general image of some people driving in a car towards a house. If that’s all I could remember, I figured there wasn’t much to recommend the novel and all the acclaim it received from literary critics and English teachers was mostly hype.
I’m here to admit that I was wrong.*
If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, read it now. If you haven’t read it in a while, read it again. It is one of the most amazing pieces of fiction you’ll ever hold in your hands.
What stands out about the novel is the way it captures so perfectly a key component of human nature. Gatsby is consumed by his need to rekindle the past. He can’t let go of his memory of Daisy, and this singular obsession is what drives his entire life. He’s too overwhelmed to realize that the Daisy he loves is a figment of his imagination. It is inevitable, yet still tragic, that he learns people are who they really are, not who we wish them to be.
I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.
The novel is short and simple and elegant. It so artfully expresses a feeling that we have all experienced, yet makes it seem fresh and profound while familiar at the same time.
But for all that, it is the following quote that summarizes exactly why I’ve fallen in love with the novel:
“He considered for a moment. Then, with reluctance: ‘I want to get the grass cut,’ he said.
We both looked down at the grass–there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected that he meant my grass.
That, dear readers, is what Mrs. Libby meant when she said in 12th grade English class, “Show, don’t tell.” One simple exchange about lawn care tells us everything we need to know about the relationship between the narrator and Jay Gatsby.
*This does not happen often. Savor it.
Please Note, If anyone wants to volunteer to cut our grass, there’s no need to stand on formality. We encourage all of our readers to help out with the chores around here.
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