To Gatsby or not to Gatsby, that is the question

Most writers want to be somebody else. Joseph Heller wanted to be Groucho Marx. Norman Mailer wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway wanted to be God. But that job was taken. So he became Ernest Hemingway instead. Mark Twain did not want to be Edgar Allan Poe, though Sam Clemens did imbibe from time to time. He had way too much Mississippi River in him to be anybody other than Tom Sawyer. After all, Tom could tell a whopper with the best of ’em. That’s a fact.

Thing is that Shirley Jackson wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Flannery O’Connor wanted to be a saint. They both just about made it. Jonathan Franzen wants to be John Updike. John Updike wanted to be Henry Green and Proust while J. D. Salinger wanted to be Scott Fitzgerald.

Scott Fitzgerald wanted to be Zelda’s husband. Jay Gatsby had a lot of Fitzgerald in him, especially his desire for Daisy Buchanan. Thing is Fitz was that he was as much Nick Carroway as he was Jay Gatsby. Seems to me that Nick went east to become Herman Melville and go after the great American novel, the “Moby Dick” of the twentieth century. As John Lovitz used to say, “Could happen.” Nick managed to gather the material when he arrived East. Jay Gatsby was Captain Ahab and Daisy Buchanan was the whale. Daisy always wore white and her palace in East Egg was white.

The point of all this is that few things are as they seem on the surface. As my granny used to say, “It just ain’t so. You got to dig deeper, Boy, to get to the marrow of the thing.” And, as far as I am concerned, “The Great Gatsby” is not Jay Gatsby’s story. The character arc points elsewhere and that elsewhere is straight at Nick Carroway. Nick is the one who changes in the novel. From beginning to end, Gatsby is after Daisy. As he floats facedown and dead in the pool, he still believes he can have Daisy.

The movie folks don’t seem to get it. They continue to make movies, doing a Somerset Maugham where the Narrator Nick is barely a character and making Gatsby the protagonist. All through the novel, it’s Nick the reader sees change. It is Nick, the country bumpkin, who comes to the big bad city to make his fortune. It is Nick who gets the Daisy treatment. It is Nick who is impressed with Gatsby and all his parties. It is Nick whom Tom Buchanan confides in about his trysts with Myrtle Wilson. It is Nick who is sadder but wiser at the end of the novel.

If the focus is going to be on Gatsby, then what we get is a character study with a plot thrown in at Act 3. And one thing is for sure. Character studies do not good movies make. By the end of the novel, it’s obvious that Gatsby has been scratching at the wrong door all along. But Gatsby never gets it.

Why would Daisy give up everything for Gatsby? Things like a husband who got his wealth the legitimate way. He inherited it. Jay Gatsby got his the nouveau riche way. He gambled for it. Plus Tom Buchanan treats Daisy like a princess. Daisy is no Jordan Baker. She has enough self-understanding to know that she is fragile. It won’t take much to break her. Plus she and Tom have a child together. Old Gatz forgot that. For a mother, a child trumps a dream any day.

Besides she’s pretty happy in the cocoon her husband has made for her. He may be an s.o.b. but he’s the kind of s.o.b. who will give her the security Gatsby will never give her. The Gatz has beaucoup cash now. But her family warned her about the Panic of 1907. “Here today gone tomorrow,” her daddy wisely pointed out to the darling of his eye.

So where does this leave the film maker? With an older, but wiser, Nick Carroway. Mature enough to know that maybe, just maybe, he can make a life with Jordan Baker while he writes that “Moby Dick” of a novel he’s been meaning to write.

I know. That’s not in the novel. But who knows? It could be in the movie.

Do you have a favorite novel or a favorite writer?

How Poetry Saved My Life; A Hustler’s Memoir by Amber Dawn

Loved this review. For some of us, poetry is all we have got sometimes.

Consumed by Ink

I had no one to help me, but the T.S. Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what life offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.     – Jeanette Winterson

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I had no idea what to expect when I took out How Poetry Saved My Life from the library to read it in preparation for the March non-fiction Write Reads podcast. I had…

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Famous Literary Products

There is some concern that Americans just don’t read enough. As a way to encourage reading, major companies are coming out with a line of products, featuring literary characters and other literary vehicles. Here is some of the upcoming products:
1. Jeeves-and-Wooster Stiff Upper Lip Gloss.
2. Jabberwocky Translators: We translate your gobblelygook into their gobblelygook.
3. Mary Poppins’ Silverware: To make the medicine go down.
4. Macbeth’s Kilts: (With and without) to bring out the ambition in your man.
5. Hercule Pierogies: You haven’t tasted a pierogi until you’ve tasted Hercule’s.
6. Achilles’ Heels: socks that won’t separate during laundry. So no use to wonder what happened to that lost sock.
7. Dorian Gray Mirrors: Now forever isn’t just a word.
8. Daisy Buchanan Diapers: Once your child starts using these, their poop won’t smell.
9. Dark and Stormy Bras: The pushup bra that keeps on pushing when all other bras give out.
10. Holden Caulfield Skateboards: We show you what a smartass you can be, riding our boards.
11. Frank ‘N’ Steiners (Odor Eaters): Your stink don’t have to be monstrous.
12. Captain Ahab-o-mobile: Let’s you own the road.
13. Ebenezer Scrooge Investments: We squeeze every dollar we can out of your investments.
14. Dracula Dental Repair: Get your bite back.
15. Oliver Twisteds; The pretzel that will leave you begging for more.
16. Charlie Brown Noses: We train the professionals.
17. Sherlock Homes: You won’t need a Doctor Watson for your retirement here.
18. Hannibal Lector’s: The finest liver products anywhere.
19. Gatzby Underpants: Guys, you will be the cat’s pajamas in the bedroom.
20. Madame Bovary Scotch: The drink that will bring out the adulteress in you.
21. Rhett Butlers: The best erectile dysfunction treatment on the market.
22. Portnoy’s Non-Complaints: The condoms that never fail.

To publish or not to publish

As promised, I don’t usually use this forum to rant and rave. Believe me there is plenty to rant and rave about. Especially if you come from a long line of ranters and ravers like me. But this time I just can’t keep my mouth shut. Something must be said, and I would like to join the chorus of voices that are saying it. I am sure you’ve heard about Harper Lee’s new book. It’s all over the news.

We grew up with Scout just like we grew up with Holden Caulfield. These became our spiritual kin. We love them in a way that we don’t love any other human being. And we keep them close to us. Sometimes we even ask, “What would Scout do?” Or “What would Holden Caulfield do?” Scout is always Scout but Holden Caulfield is never just Holden.

Now we hear that we are going to find out what happened to these two scamps. Seems Salinger deemed it in his will that there will be more Holden Caulfield soon. That is not the case when it comes to Scout. She’s going to step out into the world, kicking and screaming. Scout, and her mama Harper Lee, get no say in the matter.

Oh, sure. All those involved with the project releasing “Go Set a Watchman” say they have talked to Scout and she doesn’t object. Nobody outside of the project’s managers is really sure whether her mama, an aged Miss Lee with major health issues, approves. Folks involved with the project say they have checked with her and she gives the project a big thumbs up.

At first, they said Miss Lee didn’t even remember the fool thing. It had magically disappeared. Now it has magically reappeared. I can’t speak for the memory of Harper Lee or any author. I just can’t imagine her writing something, then forgetting about it the way we’ve been told. I have been writing since I was knee high to a grasshopper and I just about remember every piece I’ve produced. Both the good and the bad. Authors take pride in the characters we create and love them for the children they are. But I am here to tell you that I would never send my children out into the world if they were not dressed up in their Sunday best.

Over the years Miss Lee insisted she had no other books for publication. Which leads me and others to believe that there just ain’t no way she wanted this book published for all the world to see. My theory is Harper Lee took it out with the garbage and never expected it to blow back in her face. Based on the evidence we’ve heard, I don’t think she would agree to this egregious affair if she had her health. So why are her wishes not being honored? ‘Cause there is big big big bucks to be made.

Just ask Christopher Tolkien. He’s been living off the proceeds of his daddy’s research notebooks for years. It was done to Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens. Executors of their estates released work into the world that just wasn’t ready for the big time. If it had been ready, I am sure the creators would have sent their children forth with pride. Instead they have to withstand the laughter that gets thrown at them like a cake at a food fight.

Margaret Mitchell was twice raped. Her estate published “Lost Laysen”, an early stab she made at writing. Then they went and hired not one, but two, novelists to write up epilogues for her “Gone with the Wind” children. Pretty soon we will have “Tara and the Zombies”. They did it to Abe. Why not Margaret Mitchell. Depressing, isn’t it?

There are all sorts of theories about why Hemingway committed suicide. I am one who thinks that he could not stand the thought that he actually typed “The Garden of Eden”. Notice I didn’t say wrote. Now it’s out there in the world, butt naked, and spitting on the master’s grave. All ’cause the folks who were supposed to have Papa’s best interest at heart forgot their responsibility. It is amazing how much shit we will do if we are offered the right amount of money.

At least J D Salinger made sure that Holden Caulfield gets a proper introduction to the world. In his Sunday Best.

A Book for Writers

CaptureOnly occasionally do I post a piece on writing. And writers. When I do, it is something I feel can be useful to my readers who are writers. I try to avoid repeating insights you can find on other blogs. With this in mind, today I read a book. Being a slow reader, I don’t usually finish a 419 paged book in a few hours. But I finished What We See When We Read by Peter Mdndelsund, art director and book designer at Alfred A. Knopf.

It answers so many questions I have had about description over the years. What to leave out and what to put in. Insights into how a writer should describe a character. How much of that description a reader will remember.

He interviewed readers of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, askign them to describe Anna. You will find the responses very interesting. Throughout the book, he refers to a number of great writers besides Tolstoy and how they have used description. Writers such as Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Kafka, Herman Melville and Gustave Flaubert. He gives insights how an actor might go about preparing for a role such as Hamlet and how the audience sees the actor in that role.

Over the years, I have concluded that the best way to describe a character is emotionally through the use of physical description such as: angry eyes, closed-mouthed, tight jaw, weighted down body, open faced, friendly smile. It use this more than I worry about the color of a character’s eyes. After all, there are only a few colors for eyes: blue, gray, brown, black, hazel, green.

The thing is that it took me a long time to arrive at this destination with my writing. Mendelsund’s book is the icing on the cake. So do yourself a favor and get the paperback copy of this book, not the eBook.

Note: I am in no way associated with this writer or his publisher. I have not received a book to review.