Saturday, January 4, 2014

The first time I read The Great Gatsby

Earlier this evening, I watched for the first time the Baz Luhrmann film of The Great Gatsby.  I enjoyed it well enough, though I still dream of a movie that can do justice to the book--a task that may well be impossible.

As the movie was ending, and Nick was reading the closing, one of those flashes of vivid memory hit me, and I recalled the first time I read this wonderful ending. 

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I was stretched out on my crappy twin bed in my terrible little apartment in Tuscaloosa, my head propped up on pillows, a freshman with few friends and walls that didn't reach the floors.  I read this passage, sat up, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and released a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding.  My heart pounded in my chest; I remember putting my right hand to my heart in fear something was wrong.  I was in the presence of greatness, I knew that much, but more, I had read what I was sure was if not the great American novel, then one of the great American novels.  In that moment, Fitzgerald's work was mine and mine alone, as the very best novels are for each of us, until we later realize the very different joys of sharing them. 

Books that move me strongly, that grab my heart and invade my mind and wring me out and cast me aside as if tossed from a speeding roadster, those books are always with me. 

I do not believe I will ever write a novel that leaves someone on the edge of her or his bed, heart pounding, breath held, mind and soul entrapped in the book's vision, but I will always dream of doing so, and I will always love it when others do that to me, no matter how rare the experience.  I'll keep running that race, writing and stretching out my arms, in the hope that this particular fine morning one day comes.

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