Book Review: The Great Gatsby

I don’t want to waste your time with this review. You should read this book as soon as you possibly can. Put away whatever book, show, or movie you’re currently enjoying and read The Great Gatsby. The dialogue is both tightly written and deliciously rich. The descriptions are full without becoming intrusive or boring. There’s passionate and unrequited love, affairs, and  murder. Two murders. However, if you want to enjoy this masterpiece spoiler-free, stop here and go read it! If you’re content with a few spoilers, read on.

As I was reading The Great Gatsby what stood out most prominently to me was the underlying cynicism about, and frustration with, the inevitability of sin. The spiral of depravity in the slowly deteriorating relationship between Daisy, a young housewife and her cheating husband. Gatsby, a wealthy gentleman, in all his strength, wealth, and goodwill attempting to seduce someone’s wife. The murder of Myrtle Wilson in a confused and passionate rage. Fitzgerald masterfully sets these dominos up, placing them slowly and deliberately, disguising their placement with a haze of aristocratic decadence, only to knock them down in a moment of mindless fury. 

This haze that Fitzgerald places over the story blinding both the characters as well as the reader from the reality of the story is a very important one. It shades the eyes of Gatsby as he attempts, with extravagant balls and personal charm, to win the heart of Daisy, a woman who can never truly be his. He never thinks of the anger of her husband, cheating brute that he is, and the bond of marriage which connects them. He presses on, in foolish hope, that their passionate love will sort things out in the end. 

Fitzgerald’s fog blinds Daisy as she falls for Gatsby. Her husband Tom’s open infidelity, and his growing disdain for her and their marriage eats at her and she longs for someone that truly loves her. Gatsby is the answer. A handsome, rich young man who loves her totally and completely.Yet,something holds her back, something she can’t quite put her finger on. 

Tom willfully hides from the reality of his situation as he tries to balance being married to Daisy while having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, a woman of little importance and even less character. Myrtle, too put it bluntly, is not special, she is simply Tom’s boredom and growing frustration with his married life made manifest. He does little to hide his affair, going so far as to bring Nick along with him to the house of his mistress, where he gets to meet her husband, a timid mechanic. In spite of his own infidelity, Tom is possessive and selfish in his relationship with Daisy and when Gatsby begins to show interest in her, Tom retaliates.

In the midst of this complex conflict comes the cousin of Daisy and narrator for the story, Nick Carraway, a young bondsman from Minnesota. He is quiet, honest and open-minded and he acts as a center for the human maelstrom swirling around him. He is not in the same haze of moral uncertainty that plagues the three lovers, as an outsider he exists merely as an observer.

When Carraway first arrives he meets Jordan Baker, a young female golf player who is staying with Daisy and Tom. She is quick, vivacious and wry and they fall in love almost immediately, their mutual status as outsiders giving them common ground. And as the story progresses, their relationship provides a contrast with the broken relationship of Daisy and Tom. Yet, in the final moments of the story, Nick cuts the relationship short even though they still have feelings for each other. He fears that she has been corrupted by her surroundings and would bring the sickness that plagues the others into their relationship.

The seemingly inevitable collapse of the dominos and Gatsby’s untimely death has left him extremely shaken. Nick feels the need to escape the fog of immorality that surrounds him, but can he ever truly escape it? The final sentence of The Great Gatsby, “So we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past” is not the statement of a free man, it is the statement of a man condemned.

This is what I meant when I spoke earlier of the undercurrent of cynicism concerning the inevitability of human nature. As I read The Great Gatsby, there was the constant feeling of  a train barreling down the track and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. The actions of Tom, Gatsby, and Daisy are unavoidable and predestined. 

The lack of a redemption arc for any of the characters bothers me. Redemption is available, for all people, the cross and the saving grace of Christ stand in constant proof of this reality. I believe that this book missed the opportunity to have a beautiful redemptive ending. If Nick had continued his relationship with Jordan, they would have been a stunning rebuke to the warped and broken relationship of Gatsby and Daisy. A shout to the world that the darkness of sin is not the final word and instead we have the opportunity to come to Christ, be made whole and walk in truth, love and the fullness of life. 

P.S. This book can easily be read entirely on a Saturday; set aside a couple hours with your favorite snack (I prefer Haribos gummy bears or black licorice) and beverage (I like ginger ale–Reeds is best) and read the whole thing straight through.