My last post ended with a quote from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and a few people told me, as if it were responsive to my blog entry, that they really didn’t like Faulkner. That’s fine with me. I’ve enjoyed two or three of his books, but the truth is that I will probably never mention Faulkner again and won’t waste time defending him here.
But, thinking of notable American writers whose last name starts with an F, I might as well get this out in the open now. I have been involved in a love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald since I was a senior in that high school that was more interested in football than educating me. The affair’s origins came back to mind recently when a friend returned a book she had borrowed from me many years ago. It was The Great Gatsby and, I’m ashamed to say, it was a school library book I never returned. Some might say that my taking the book from the library was an act of passive aggression against the school I resented. But I’d say it was more a crime of passion.
I was fascinated by the book. The main reason, I believe, was that I had heard that it was the most perfect novel ever written. After that I was smitten. Think about it. How many times in our lives do we get to taste, touch, absorb, and actually possess the most perfect of anything?
I studied Gatsby, reading and rereading, picking out the symbols involving eggs, rebirth, a wasteland between east and west, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes, who like God’s “see everything,” and the light at the end of Daisy’s dock, green like the American dollar? There was the genius of the unreliable narrator, Nick Carraway. And so few people knew that the original book title was Trimalchio in West Egg and that Trimalchio, a character in the Roman novel Satyricon, was a freedman who through hard work and perseverance attained power and wealth — I had to conclude that it was almost a personal secret between me, Scott, and maybe his editor.
Then my passion for the book turned into interest for all things Fitzgerald, including his three other books (alas, no more!), his short stories, poems, reviews by and about him, letters, magazine articles, and miscellaneous writings. I loved the self-deprecating and sardonic humor reflected in his magazine articles, one in particular about vulnerability, describing how he used to have about ten square feet of skin vulnerable to chills and fevers, and had enlarged to about twenty feet of skin by acquiring a wife and daughter.
Speaking of wife Zelda, I read her biography and became convinced that she had been all wrong for him and he and I were virtual soul-mates. But over time I have begun to wonder about a cosmic mate who doesn’t bother to channel me some of his literary talent. Try as I might, I could never write lines such as these from the story “O Russet Witch:” “He was astonishing himself by the debonnaire appropriateness of his remarks. Words seemed for the first time in his life to run at him shrieking to be used, gathering themselves into carefully arranged squads and platoons, and being presented to him by punctilious adjutants of paragraphs.”
And then there’s that beautiful ending to Gatsby that speaks so eloquently of the human condition that we continually try to surmount, even knowing that we must ultimately fail:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow 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.
Say what you will about Faulkner. But whatever you do, don’t mess with Fitzgerald.