We’re enjoying another slow week in Campbellsville, and I have decided to read or re-read some classics. It is possible to experience too many of the great books too soon in life. I suspect that I did. I wolfed down everything written by Hemingway, Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, and Faulkner before age 25. I also read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest hit, The Great Gatsby, much too soon. I say this because forty or so years ago Gatsby did not impress me.
Then and now I remain in thrall to the stories Papa Hemingway told, simply and truly. He covered the worst wars, followed the most dangerous blood sports (boxing and bull-fighting), and hunted and fished everywhere for everything. He lived large and his stories were larger. My favorite Hem production is his 1959 narrative covering a three month series of mano a mano bullfights between Dominguin and Ordonez, the old and young superstars of the Spanish ring. The book is called Dangerous Summer, and to enjoy its chronology of the eternal rivalry between premier athletes, young and old, you must get past your modern day distaste for this barbaric pursuit. You will get past it. The characters, the danger that the sport demands and rewards, and their powerful opponents will get into your blood.
Gatsby is a story of human hopes, cruelties, memories, and wistful dreams. Hemingway often wrote disparagingly of Fitzgerald, perhaps because his writing was something more than “true and simple”. Gatsby is ornate and introspective, poetic and timeless, and yet as believable as Papa’s stories of war, hunting, and sport.
Check out Dangerous Summer, and re-read Gatsby. You will be glad you did. I will leave you with the last paragraphs of The Great Gatsby. These words do not give away the plot, but are examples of his wonderfully thoughtful writing.
“(Gatsby) had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back there in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light (Daisy’s), the orgastic 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.”