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I've never cared for it, but...
on October 10, 2003
I question whether I should even write a review of a book I dislike which most people, even most of my friends, seem to adore. What it comes down to, for me, is that all the characters, even the best of them (namely Gatsby) are amoral, and the worst of them are vile. I ended up reading this book for school twice. The first time, in high school, I finished it and thought, "I must be missing something," so I bought and read through the Cliffs Notes, and then said, "Well yes, I knew all that, but so what?" In college I was assigned to read it a second time, and that time I got more substance out of it. The book will never be one of my favorites, though. I just haven't got enough cynicism in my soul (at least not yet, anyway) to look into a moral vaccuum and find much enlightenment there.
Perhaps I should read it a third time; it's a short book, after all. I'm older now, and I do get the point in a way I couldn't have then--Gatsby falls in love not with a real woman, but with his own dream vision of her, and confrontation with the real thing shatters him. (Then again, Don Quixote did the exact same thing without making me dislike him.) The equating in Gatsby's mind of love with money is also worth understanding as a very American hang-up, but it does just make him seem pathetic. And yes, I know that's the point.
I also concede that one reason I disliked it was the sheer glut of tragedies I was forced to read in school. I find that I have more patience for unhappy endings in fiction now that they're not being forced on me. (Heck, I read Dostoevsky for fun, now). But unhappy endings need not be the same thing as nihilism. Gatsby's universe is a highly nihilistic one, a world so far gone that even the saddest ideals seem priceless simply for being ideals.
Perhaps it's the kind of cynicism the book represents--it's not "grumpy old man" cynicism like Vonnegut or Twain, which at least feels earned and honest. No, this is youthful "look how worldly I am" cynicism, the sort that drives us as kids to write bad poetry and wear lots of black. Perhaps that's inevitable--the characters ARE all young, and the book is about decadence.
It may also be the humorlessness of the book that sets it aside from Vonnegut and Twain. I enjoyed de Laclos's "Dangerous Liasons," where the protagonists are both insidiously evil, but at least the cynicism there is laced with black humor. Gatsby carries an unrelenting air of "I'm writing something important, dammit!"
It's not my cup of tea. You're free to like it. Most folks do.