Friday, September 26, 2014

The Great Gatsby—Great or Grating?

A certain stratum of Twin Cities “intelligentsia” loves to grovel before “The Great Gatsby”. Three women on Minnesota Public Radio are at it again this morning. They aren’t only calling it the greatest American novel, but the greatest novel period.

"What makes it so Great? Why does it endu-u-ure? Why do we keep rereading it?"

I've read it several times. It's on my shelf right now. Why? A repeatedly unsuccessful search to catch a glimpse of any latent transplendence. To me, it's dull, shallow, cheap, simplistic melodrama that I have to slog through. The only thing that lingers for me is the billboard with the "watchful eyes".

Some prof-type talked about "The best seven pages that have ever been written about America" lurking somewhere in Gatsby...??!!!!

The host and guests on the radio show vied to outdo each other with the overwhelming ravishment each experienced the first time she read Gatsby.

Well, these folks have to make a living, too, and this is one way to go about it.

But it makes me think that even though they read a lot, they must not read widely. It's "greatness" pales in the presence of...for starters:

Anything by Robertson Davies. (Not an "American" because he's Canadian? Our friends to the north would argue that provincial view.)

Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court".

"The Subterraneans" and "The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac.

"Women" by Charles Bukowski.

"Clem Anderson" by R.V. Cassill

Even Herman Wouk's "Youngblood Hawke" is more compelling in all its popular novel-ness. That potboiler was fun both times I read it.

And Henry Miller's gigantic "The Rosy Crucifixion". This massive trilogy is set in the same era as Gatsby. If you want to talk about having one's world shift while reading it for the first time...

That covers a few “great” American novels. If you’re claiming global greatness for Gatsby the list of contenders multiplies. Musil, Gombrowicz, Broch, Kundera, Kafka…and on… As the N’yawkas like to say, “fugedabahdit!”

But what’s this compulsion to establish greatness? There’s some masturbatory, self-serving element to all this. If you like it, it’s good. Like wine. Evangelistic browbeating is pointless. Oh, right…everybody has to make a living. Even Jay Gatsby at some point, as I recall…but I think my mind was always wandering by then…