I have often said that The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, while is probably a little dishonest of me. I usually only say that about books I’ve read many times. Definitely more than once. That’s right; at 33 years of age, I have only read The Great Gatsby one time and claimed it as a favorite book. Definitely in the top ten. Now, I wasn’t trying to be pretentious. I just really loved that book when I read it… when I was a teenager… in high school…
Give me a moment. I just realized that I read this book for the first time almost 20 years ago.
Anyway. When The Classics Circuit announced The Lost Generation Tour, I immediately knew what I wanted to read. Save the Last Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald. What? you say? Yes! I did not intend to read F. Scott’s work, but that of his wife Zelda. Poor Zelda. Alas however, I could not find my copy (still haven’t, come to that. Hmmmm…) and then I remembered that Jill (Fizzy Thoughts) (softdrink) (whomever she is today) (love ya Jill!) reviewing The Great Gatsby not to long ago and she had listened to an audiobook production of it. Read by the actor Tim Robbins. Score! And lucky me, the library had it. I promptly downloaded it and plugged in.
It was interesting revisiting this classic of my (gulp) childhood. I was surprised by how much I remembered of the story. I remembered it very well, down to Dr. Engelberg’s eyes! I was not surprised by how much better I understood it. I’m not trying to knock my halfway decent public education or my poor, harried, miserable English teachers, but I think there is something to be said for reading classics as you get older. You know, life experience and all that. What surprised me as well, was how well I identified with Gatsby this time around. The first time I read it, Gatsby seemed this elusive figure, off to the side, never really engaging with anyone, including me. This time, I know what it feels like to be the outsider wanting in, to have fought for acceptance, to have worked to realize dreams, to want something so much I’d be willing to do anything to get it. Gatsby lives in the past though, he’s fighting for dreams that have died. I felt sorry for Gatsby this time. Gatsby is the naive one, in my opinion, in thinking that Daisy would come away with him. Is he really “better than the whole damn bunch of them” as Nick says? He does seem the most honest.
Another surprise is how much I didn’t care for Nick Carroway. Our storyteller is a hypocrite. He tries to come off as the honest one, the good one, the one better than all this richness, intrigue, lying, and such, when by the end, he’s just as bad as the rest of them. He sees what’s going on and he does nothing to help. Except talk about it. He judges everyone, but himself. Well, at least until Jordan calls him out on it. At least once he sees she’s right, he decides to get away from all that and go out “West” and make a fresh start. But does he? The fact that Nick is telling us this story after it is all over shows that he is still obsessing over it, still living in the past. I wonder if he became another Gatsby like figure, in trying to recapture the past.
The women and Tom Buchanan. The innocents in white. So deceptive. Rich, careless, privileged. Careless seems the perfect word to describe the lot of them. They don’t care. About anyone, not even each other really. The only thing they seem to care about is perception. No, I take that back, because obviously Tom doesn’t care about perception that much. Everyone knows he cheats, regularly, on Daisy. And what is it about Daisy anyway? What makes her so special to Gatsby, Tom and even Nick? Sure, Daisy is beautiful, mysterious, a sassy flirt, and has her “full of money” voice, but what is the draw? I don’t see it, myself. She’s rich, spoiled…just as flawed as the rest of them and none of them are innocent.
How much of my perceptions this time were shaped by Tim Robbins? A lot, I’m sure. Tim Robbins gave a pretty great performance. Each character, no, each sex, had different voices and he performs the heck out of the book. My only problem with him is he doesn’t know how to control his volume. This is one of the few audiobooks I’ve listened to where I was constantly adjusting the volume. His women are loud! And his men tend to mumble. Yet I enjoyed it so much I didn’t care. All in all he made this a fun listen. The final section includes letters between Fitzgerald and his agent (and others) about the publication of the book. These are read by the wonderful Robert Sean Leonard and are very interesting.
Please see other stops on the Lost Generation Tour by visiting The Classics Circuit.