Friday, October 17, 2014

A Review of Maureen Corrigan's So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (Little, Brown and Company, 2014)

The best thing about Corrigan's writing (true also in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading) is her expression of the joy of reading and books. Her love of The Great Gatsby is contagious, and certainly made me want to read it yet again.

And it's fun the varying paths that are taken in the study of the book; as a biography of F. Scott Fitzgeral, a tracking of the book's critical and commercial fall and rise (quite the opposite of how things usually happen), and the reaction to the book for a great variety of readers.

My one qualm with the book (similar to one I had with her reading memoir) is political.When she writes about the book's character Tom Buchanan's passion for the book "The Rise of Colored Empires" she writes, "Because Tom's tirade is played for laughs in the very first chapter of The Great Gatsby, it reassures us from the outset that the novel is inclusive, even progressive, in its politics" there seems to be an assumption that racism and a belief in eugenics is "conservative" and the opposite of the politics of the left. When, in fact, many leading progressives of the time were firm believers in eugenics (see Margaret Sanger) and inveterate racists (see Woodrow Wilson). But as with here memoir, Corrigan has a rather simplistic political view (pretty much "Conservatives, Republicans...BAD....Liberals, Democrats...GOOD!")

Corrigan's observations about the symbolism in the book are delightful, and her observation that these symbols and the book's tight structure can pass unnoticed because of the eloquence and charm of Fitzgerald's prose. Also interesting was her linking the novel to the PI noir tradition and her insight that the rise of the book's popularity might be linked to its being one of the books made available in mass quantities to GI's headed overseas.

I do have one other quibble. Corrigan says that The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald's only great novel. Tender Is the Night is a great novel, about this she is just flat wrong.

1 comment:

Yeselson said...

You ought to re-read the parts where Corrigan discusses Buchanan and the racism/anti-semitism/gender norming fears (Jordan, the androgenous woman golfer) anxiety about "others" in the book. She acknowledges all of that, but does **not** condemn Fitzgerald for any of it. This is part of the complexity of the book--that a well-off white man would feel this during the 1920s of the Klan and immigration restrictions is understandable. Yet FSF also indeed makes Buchanan a buffoon--so like all great literature, TGG is a complicated and lends itself to conflictual readings.