Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gatsby vs. The Haters!

We still have a few hours before the unwashed masses gain admittance to Baz Luhrman's adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but already the haters are hatin'. Not the movie, mind you* — the book.

“I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent,” sez — nay, thunders!Kathryn Schulz. “I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains.” You hear that? Lessons! So rev yerself up for some good book-larnin', kiddo, and click on that link.

The Great Gatsby has often been called 'a novel of yearning,' which for me has always meant a yearning for it to be a better book,” sez — nay, snarks! The Globe & Mail's new Books editor, Jared Bland. “So why do we keep caring? . . . because for the most part we have it all wrong.” So get it right for once, you numbskull, and click on that link!

Some years back this guy did a “Reader's Manifesto,” which I thoroughly enjoyed (as I did these two pieces). He went one further than Schulz and excised large swaths of writer's prose, which he then excoriated. I giggled along with the man, for the most part, but every once in a while I thought, “Uh — sorry, dude, but this time the author's got me onside.”

Similarly with the passage Bland stabs at:

He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky and frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifting fortuitously about . . . etc.

Sitting on its own like that, the passage does indeed emanate a purple aura (this guy's sentences suffer similarly). But “poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air”? I can dig it.

You get to a certain age and you realize it doesn't matter what your youthful aspirations might have been: your dead ancestors are more present than ever, consuming your dreams and angling for the final word on your life. So by my reading, this metaphor works just fine — for me, and most certainly for Gatsby's larger themes of striving and deficiency (not that you'll ever hear me declare my reading to be The Right Reading. I kinda thought we were beyond all that).

Still, it's a bracing pleasure to catch a little acidity from The Gloat & Wail's Books editor. The previous editor, Martin Levin, was eminently fair-minded and even-tempered — traits that served him and his pages very well during the era of Carol Shields (surely the most fair-minded and even-tempered literary talent this country has laid claim to), but not-so-well in the age of digital decimation. A scrappier temperament might yet inject a little life into those pages — and links. So keep throwing down, Mr. Bland — our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

"Here's mud in yer eye!"

*Although from the outset Luhrman has been dressed down by the usual scolds, a force of habit for some that shows no signs of stopping.


Joel said...

I'll start right out by saying i'm not a high-brow literary person, so I'm not qualified to evaluate what is good art and what is not. But to me the main value of literature is that it lets you see a glimpse of a time period and culture that now no longer exist. And the Great Gatsby is good in that regard.
There may be some flowerly passages, but there's also a lot of passages where the characters are just sitting around talking like normal people, and the dialogue sections are good. The characters seem like real people. It makes it seem like the 1920s could have been happening yesterday, instead of 100 years ago.

Darrell Reimer said...

I agree. The scene about two-thirds of the way through when everyone is sitting in a hotel suite and Tom Buchanan is, in his slow, clumsy way, confronting Gatsby is terrific for exactly those sorts of details. The whole party getting drunk on a Sunday morning, driving into the city, taking out a suite at the Plaza so they can get drunker, and meanwhile the heat of the summer day is bearing down on them because nobody has air-conditioning in 1925. There's no radio, so there's no music. They're just sitting in a large, silent, stiflingly hot room, all dressed up and sweaty, getting on each other's nerves. Terrific.