The first time I read this, I was young and impatient. (Now I'm old and impatient.) I didn't understand Fitzgerald's genius until page 162 (which is pretty close to the end, which shows how hard I can be to be convinced of the obvious). It's a passage you probably know well if you're familiar with the book:
"...he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about..."
I understood almost nothing of the rest of the book. The problems and petty tragedies of the privileged moved me very little (and I don't care much more about them now). Even Nick Carraway, the quiet narrator who barely leaves a trace of himself in the story, was much more secure in every sense than I'd ever been and so seemed far above and beyond me. And that period of American history left, and leaves, me cold.
So what could this story possibly hold for me?
That's what I keep coming back to find out.
It began with having faith in a writer who understood how terrifying a rose can be from a certain angle.
It's a little more personal now that I have a son who suffers from Carraway Syndrome: the condition of being a quiet, sympathetic, nonjudgmental presence who attracts people who desperately need that. He's a "good listener" in a world that rarely returns the favor.
What will the story be for me next time? A closer look at Jordan Baker, maybe. Or a better understanding of Nick and his fear of "missing something if I forget that...a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth."
Or maybe I'll just listen, the way Nick was compelled to listen both to "veteran bores" and "the secret griefs of wild, unknown men." And if I'm still not sure why I should care about Gatsby and his cherished heartbreak, there's always another reading ahead. Because whatever else this is, it's not a story that can be shut, set aside, and forgotten. Even I
figured that out the first time around, and I was an exceptionally stupid teenage reader.