The excellence of THE GREAT GATSBY is hardly in contention, but I wanted more. The book was too short and didn't do justice for the Roaring Twenties. Some interesting background characters interacting with the core cast would have fleshed them out, given the book a larger social footprint and provided more realism with a greater sense of setting and time.
It's one thing to get an adrenaline rush from a story, or a sexual charge or whatever (there's a lot of that these days, even in notable publications such as THE PARIS REVIEW), but what I really appreciate is when a writer writes coherently about the life, locale and times of the characters--family dynamics, politics, the economy, the weather. (Pound for pound, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE does this better than any book I've read.)
In film it's background color. For example, in A FEW GOOD MEN, Cruise's character pauses at a newsstand to buy a paper and banters with the black proprietor in a string of cliches. It was priceless. It digressed from the plot. It helped to define Cruise's character and gave us a break from the action. It added to the reality of the situation, enriching it.
Stories without background are dead stories. If someone's supposed to be a bond trader, don't just tell me; prove it to me with some essential detail. It's the same if he's a doctor or a priest. And don't just put them in a white smock or a collar.
Scott Fitzgerald was a gifted writer who got an early start and then got sandbagged by loving the wrong woman. Trying to keep Zelda happy and entertained put extreme pressure on him to keep producing and perhaps manuscripts got sent out too early. Hemingway saw this and as a friend tried to help. But I'm digressing.
Fitzgerald's gift was his clever, fluid, poetic way of crafting a phrase. He could describe a sunset with a simile and make it so memorable you had to re-read it and sigh before continuing. With Hem it was just another sunset. Maybe a pink one.
But a strength can be a weakness if it distracts us from learning and growing, like James Tyrone, the father/actor in A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT who played the same role what, five thousand times?
Ah, the corrupting power of money.
I'll always wonder what Scott could have become if he'd not met Zelda.
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