Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Gatsby

If it wasn't for the absence of references to ATMs and the Internet, The Great Gatsby could 'pass' for something written in the post-digital era.

The descriptions of luxury and over-indulgence are at the same time nostalgic of the Jazz Age and straight out of current lifestyle magazines about the rich and famous. No shortage of 'guests' crash these stylish parties, where "The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names."

How does the mysterious Gatsby make his fortune and connections? There is a murky, dark side to chasing the money that will pay for the estate and the parties and the lights.

Jay's wish is deceptively simple: Daisy's love and adulation. Of course, life is complicated.

The love story has no happy ending.

All the party-goers that were so eager to drink his liquor are absent at Gatsby's funeral. As are his 'business associates'. There is not even a telegram from Daisy. Less than a handful pay their last respects.

Originally published in 1925, the book was not a critical success. One reviewer from the Brooklyn Eagle attempted to impress her readership with a biting criticism, "I could not find one chemical trace of magic, life, romance or mysticism in all The Great Gatsby." Several others dismissed the novel, but Gilbert Seldes celebrated the publication and wrote, it "is a brilliant work, and it is also a sound one; it is carefully written, and vivid; it has structure and it has life. To all the talents, discipline has been added."

The book was not a commercial success, either. In fact unsold volumes were still in a warehouse when Fitzgerald died in 1940. It wasn't until the 1950s that the book skyrocketed to the bestseller list.

The author himself blamed the commercial failure on the fact the "book contains no important woman character and women control the fiction market at present." Interesting comment.

Francis Cugat was chosen to provide the jacket art and the Art Deco style perfectly suits the tone and spirit of the novel - in fact, in this particular instance the illustration preceded the novel. "Cugat's rendition is not illustrative but symbolic, even iconic: the sad, hypnotic, heavily outlined eyes of a woman beam like headlights through a cobalt night sky.... In Cugat's final painting, (Daisy's) celestial eyes enclose reclining nudes and her streaming tear is green - like the light that burns all night at the end of her dock... " (Matthew Bruccoli)

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